Do yourself a favor. The next time you find yourself inside a movie theater, ask yourself the following question: “What was it, specifically, that convinced you to buy a ticket to this particular movie?” Can you track your decision to watch this film back to a single event? A “thing” that you were exposed to that made you go, “Oh yeah! I’m buying a ticket!” Did you watch a really cool trailer? Did you read about the film on Facebook? Get a recommendation from a friend? Understanding how you got into a movie theater in the first place will be of great use to you once you start designing your own marketing campaign in the not-so-distant future. It’s something that I try to be conscious of every time I find myself inside a movie theater. Now, a lifetime of industry statistics will say that the “thing” that drew you to the movie theater at that very moment was a combination of
(a) exposure– meaning the movie is either notable enough to be featured in the media, or the distributor has enough of a budget to advertise and market it offline/online;
(b) brand/ name recognition – the movie stars an actor or is directed by a filmmaker that you admire, it is based on a book that you’ve read or is a part of a franchise that you love;
(c) content – the content is appealing, the trailer evokes a reaction, TV spots are stirring excitement and anticipation within you, the story seems really good, and the visuals are impressive;
(d) reviews – the media talks about the film in a positive way, word of mouth and your inner circle are all saying that this is a movie that they either want to see or that you have to see.
These are the ABCs of marketing, and they apply to almost any and every product out there. There are many other elements at play, but they are fairly insignificant in comparison. If a movie meets any one of those criteria, it will draw an audience, and the more criteria it meets, the bigger the audience is going to be. So, if a movie gets a lot of press (exposure) but nothing else, it may still draw a significant number of viewers. On the other hand, if a movie has great content but no exposure, it will not draw a significant number of viewers and, unfortunately, there are many documented cases of amazing films with no-name talent and very little exposure that died at the box office and exist primarily in obscurity.
On the other hand, I’m sure you can name a few box office smash-hit films that were critical failures. Lastly, and this may not come as a shocker to you, if a small, independent film has brand/name recognition (like a recognizable cast or a celebrated filmmaker), it will automatically receive interest from the media (exposure). If the content is bad, it’ll be destroyed by negative reviews, negative articles, and negative word of mouth, but if the content is good, it will be praised. All of that is ammunition that the distributor will use during their marketing campaign to try and convince you to drag your ass out of the house and visit the movie theater, and then, once you’ve done that, to sell you on the DVD, Blu-Ray, soundtrack, and watch the movie on-demand. That, in a nutshell, is how you got inside that theater and how you put food on the filmmaker’s table.
“Talking about dreams is like talking about movies since the cinema uses the language of dreams; years can pass in a second, and you can hop from one place to another. It’s a language made of images. And in the real cinema, every object and every light means something, as in a dream.” ~ Federico Fellini