Monday, March 16, 2009

Can Word of Mouth Be the Key to a Film's Success?

I took a refreshing break from my computer this weekend, made an Irish meal last night (yes, I am Irish), and woke up with renewed energy -- must have been all that homemade Irish Soda Bread. 

Back to the topic at hand, can word of mouth be the key to a film's success? Absolutely and D'uh!

Indiewire and SXSW are featuring the idea that word of mouth may be the key factor to a film's success. Bob Berney, the former head of New Line's now defunct Picturehouse, stated: “I think word of mouth is the key to profitability.” Indiewire points out in the same article that Berney used this approach with the successful films “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “Whale Rider,” and “Monster.”

Is this really news to us indie filmmakers? Haven't we always known that the onus for getting our films out there are on our shoulders? Do they really mean: no matter what budget size you have, getting your film shown, mentioned, or highlighted in as many ways as possible that results in the largest group of people talking or hearing about it is the key to a film's success? 

All films rely on word of mouth. Indie filmmakers just have scrappier ways of making it happen. The studios pay for it; we use our blood, sweat and tears. Maybe we can't afford full-page ads in the NYTimes or get the likes of Entertainment Weekly to give a damn about our films, but we can employ creative, less costly, ways of getting our films out to large crowds.  

It sounds good and makes many of us feel better to know that we are on the right track for profitability. What other choice do we have really? Are there really any other cost-effective means for marketing available to an indie filmmaker that doesn't contain some form of word of mouth? All of the social media outlets are based on spreading the word. Even advertising is a way of getting the word out. And critical reviews -- the written word -- are yet another means of getting your film in front of the masses. 

In my opinion, the key to real success is making a good movie that people want to see. From there, it comes down to putting as much effort into the promotion of the film as you do into making it. 

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Whale Rider," and "Monster" were all very good films. Initial lower-cost advertising worked for them because people liked the films, and after they saw them, recommended them to others. She told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on.

So what's the moral of the story? Make a good film and work hard to promote it. You can't have a truly successful film without both ingredients.

1 comment:

Phantom of Pulp said...

Good post.

In the pre-distribution period for an indie film, I think word of mouth is the key to the film's awareness.

In release, word of mouth is key to its success or failure.

It's also a fact that "arthouse" audiences are more influenced by reviews.

Recently, I was involved in the distribution of Lynch's "Inland Empire". The advertising "spend" was very small. We only bought major newspaper space in New York for the debut of the film at IFC. We also got Manohla Dargus to review the film; her review was favorable, thank God.

The territorial release of the pic was very dependent on the New York reviews and performance at IFC.

All subsequent bookings were promoted almost exclusively via word of mouth and awareness on Lynch-themed sites.

Admittedly, Lynch was already a known commodity, so initial interest was strong. Still, behind the film's successful release was a potent word of mouth campaign enhanced by reviews and the occasional publicity stunt.

This approach was taken because Lynch was keen to self-distribute through his own company.