Self Promotion

It’s inevitable that at some point you’ll have to tell or show someone how wonderful you are. Self promotion has become an integral part of what I do as an independent filmmaker, without it, the likelihood is that no one would ever know about me or my films. For me, self promotion relates largely to networking on social media (which used to be limited to networking at actual meet and greet type events, but can now be done online). It is now possible to produce a piece of work and have someone watch and comment on it without ever needing to share the same room – is that a good or bad thing? Whilst the ‘freedom’ I talk about is liberating filmmakers like myself, and making it possible to produce work on a regular basis to a watchable decent standard, means filmmaking is slowly becoming less about how much money you have or who you know (although both are still undeniably important). In my opinion, it is becoming more about how you build an audience for yourself.

My aim, beyond making films, has been to make sure I have a platform for distributing what I produce. There has been a long period of trial and error, and whilst most things have not worked, I now have a set up which is largely self maintaining and actually requires little attention from me to execute. If you want to self promote and build a social media ‘presence’ or following, the only thing you need to have at your disposal is time. It takes a lot of time, an annoying amount at first, to self promote and you’ll likely see the time wasted as it could be better spent being creative. But without that sacrifice, I would have spent six months to a year producing a short film for only ten people (your friends and family) to ever see it. Film festivals were the answer a few years back, but now I fail to see their absolute appeal – why spend X amount of money on entry fees with no guarantee anyone will see your film beyond the judging panel? The appeal, just to play my own devil’s advocate, is that if you do get into a reputable festival, the exposure should be both beneficial and rewarding to you and your film and industry types may well take note of you. But what are the chances that will ever happen? Recently I spent over £200 on entering Killer Bird into festivals, and even now, I feel like that just isn’t enough financial commitment to make a dent. That money translates to just over sixty submission, and I’ll be lucky to get ten acceptances. It’s not necessarily because the film is ‘bad’ (but perhaps a tad too long for festivals), but rather so many people are entering festivals with their short films, how can they possibly accept them all? The deflating reality is that rejected submissions will likely be how young filmmakers will judge their work. I am a bit older and wiser now, and I often remind myself of stories of professionals who went through hundreds of rejections before landing something – actors and writers alike. So perhaps rejection is a good thing, as it helps to spur you on, as long as it doesn’t stop you entirely.

What I’ve decided to do (until more recently) is use social media pretty much exclusively to self promote my work. The hope is that it will drive some online traffic in my direction, and people will be tempted to watch my films. The biggest appeal for me is that the cost is almost always free to use (although Facebook has changed in recent years, and it seems you have to pay to ‘sponsor’ your posts for them to get seen – but more on that later). I released That’s Not Me in early 2014, and I still get comments about it in 2016 without having to pay or do much for the privilege. It’s just online, and if I can direct people towards it, they may watch it. Simple. The downside to this strategy is that I earn nothing from what I produce, apart from the attention. At the moment I am producing films purely for the pleasure of having people watch, and hopefully, enjoy them. At some point, this needs to change, and I am still trying to figure that out, and that self promotion will take on a whole new meaning. It’s one thing to get people interested in you, but to get people to either pay or invest, is the holy grail. My aim is to get as many people as possible to watch my films, and with each new project, I want to beat what the previous film did – this relates to likes, comments and views, but also from what I’ve learnt previously. Big production companies judge their films depending on the bottom line and whether they turn a profit, which sustains the industry, but surely my reasons for producing a film is more appealing. I see many other films doing better than mine (in terms of views), and it can be disheartening, but I take it to mean that I just need to keep working harder and more creatively.

My set up consists largely or social media pages. I’ve got a personal Facebook and Twitter account, which I use randomly and occasionally post some film related work – but neither are important to my day-to-day self promotion work. I network mostly through my 23½ name, and that is where I have built my online presence. The initial idea was to hide my individual-ness and promote myself as a company. As time has gone on, I reverted back to referring myself as an individual, even when posting through 23½ – I think people like to see a face and person behind a brand/logo, and will build more of a relationship with what I am producing. But having said that, perhaps I wouldn’t have built 20k+ followers on Twitter as ‘Daniel’ rather than ’23½ Films’. Facebook was the first place I set up a separate account for my film work, but progress was, and continues to be, slow. Facebook has lost is appeal to me as it seems the only way to get notice is to ‘sponsor’ your posts – which I can understand that Facebook are a company, but it’s still disappointing. Facebook can still be great if you have the money and budget, as I am sure most people are still glued to their Facebook feed so it’s great exposure, but what if you don’t have that budget? Occasionally I will pay to promote a post, which tend to be my marque posts like a new film release, and it will generally get more response than a post I didn’t pay to promote – which is a good thing, right? The difference can be from fifty people seeing your post to a few thousand. But this harps back to the idea that filmmaking is moving away from being about how much money you have, and retreating backwards into the cash-dilemma which I’d like it to move away from. Therefore most of my self promotion now takes place on Twitter. I’ve used other sites to connect and network with people (Vimeo and WordPress have their advantages, but mostly disadvantages), as it allows you to target completely random people without seeming like a spam bot. I’m not sure why this is so, as their actually very little difference between all the different social media sites you can use, but it seems that people use Twitter because it has become the new Facebook. This will change in time, I’m sure, but it’s about riding that wave and making sure you keep up to date with out things are changing. I use Twitter sparingly, but hopefully to maximum affect. I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty of what I do or the methods I use, but it’s fair say, if you are looking to self promote, and do it properly, Twitter is the best tool to use. I currently have over twenty-thousand followers and whilst this doesn’t necessarily translate to much – I have no idea how many people of these ‘followers’ will donate to my fundraising campaign for example, but it does give me a platform to show my work to people. It also allows you to connect with people in a similar position – it’s networking the old fashioned way, but with the luxury of ignoring any weirdos.

The major downside is that the market has become saturated with other production companies and filmmakers doing very similar things to myself. This means people are less and less interested in what you do, but we just don’t have the time to take an interest in everything and everyone out there – but hasn’t it always been like this? The game has just changed slightly. I spend a lot of my time trying to connect to people about what they do, in order to build a relationship, rather than just spamming them with information about myself. Self promotion can be, and will likely be, annoying to most people who come in contact with it. So you have to try your best not to piss people off with exaggerated truths, which social media is perfect for encouraging. In the end, the work will speak for itself. I’ve heard of stories of actors being cast in a film becomes they have a bigger social media following than another, and whilst this has never been a factor for me, I would consider my choice if someone had a very disturbing or worrying media presence – but I think that’s common sense, right? So you have to be aware of how you self promote, and use it intelligently. I think it is almost a necessity to do it, but not because I am a social media advocate, but because it’s free. Why wouldn’t you do it?

People contact me a lot (or what seems like a lot to me). Perhaps ten people send me a message a day, mostly on Twitter. A large majority of these people are hoping that ‘I keep them in mind’ for future projects. I am not disingenuous to anyone who contacts me, it’s just funny that most people use the same very generic opening message. They are looking for their next job, I get it. But self promotion should be about standing out from the crowd. The way you get your next job is to be inventive and creative with how you go about getting it, no? I am not talking like Stephen King-esq, Misery style creative, but you know. Just be, different. The people I tend to stay in contact with online are those who’ve opened with a different way of introducing themselves – finding a common interest is a great one. It lures me into a conversation and instantly they are much more memorable than someone sending me their CV. However, there is always a downside, and again this one is time. It is easy to send a generic message, and it’s probably something you got saved in your notes app ready to copy and paste. But it’s actually wasting that little bit of time, because it’s doing nothing to promote yourself properly so you might as well not do it at all.

I am terrible at self promoting in person. If you ever see me at a networking event, which is highly unlikely, then you’ll see me spending most of time listening to others rather than biggin’ myself up – a verbal vomit of self aware bullshit, that is meant to make me consider working with you. I remember when I first moved to Brighton, I attended a local event, and whilst I was excited to start meeting other filmmakers, one of the first people I met introduced himself as being the next Tarantino. I immediately wanted to call him out, and leave, but manners restricted me to polite conversation for another ten minutes or so – I never returned. I understand that for every one hundred bullshitters, there is probably at least one person who is genuinely producing the work they are self promoting, but how can you possibly know until you’ve seen the work. So it’s all well and good me telling you my films are this or that, but it’s up to you to judge, and not for me to tell you. I am not a jobbing filmmaker, so perhaps my opinion would change if I was seeking someone to employ me, but as a general networking event, I avoid actual meet and greets as often as possible. This is blasphemy, I know, as it is the bedrock of our industry, but for me, social media has made networking events almost obsolete. I say almost because whenever I do attend an event (albeit likely a short film night), I will meet some of the people I have connected with online. It’s just a confirmation of who we both are: “Hi, I’m Daniel” “Yes, we’re friends on Facebook” “Oh, are we? Great!” is an accurate depiction of the sort of conversations I have.

Another downside to this attitude is people are less likely to care about you if they’ve only ever talked to you online. I think people are more open if they’ve met you, so you can’t rely on social media as your only form of self promotion. But if used properly, it should be an important focus. Social media allows people to connect with you, people from all over the world, and watch your work instantly – as long as you have it online. As things stand, I am very happy with the progress I’ve made on social media and how I self promote. However, I also know its limitations, and how it’s no match for have your work shown the traditional way. But as an independent filmmaker, my way of self promotion has allowed me to build my own audience who are aware of me and my films, and more likely to engage with me the next time I make a film. If I had neglected its benefits, I probably would have hit a brick wall by now. I am close to hitting one, it seems, as I would like to be making money from filmmaker, but wouldn’t everyone?  Without spending the time to self promote, my work and films would likely be collecting dust somewhere, but as it is, people are discovering my work every day and my films continue to be seen regularly – an actor frequently tells me how it gets recognised for a role we filmed almost two years ago. If I stop self promoting, those views stop, so I have to keep it up if I want people to see my work. Having said that, spending too much time self promoting can be the most affective way of losing touch with what it is you ‘should’ be doing. Social media is a dangerous distraction, as it often occupies our mind and tempts you away from the hard graft of creating, so finding that balance is the key to your success with self promotion. Do it, and do it well, but don’t let it get in the way of the work.