Ten Ways To Stand Out In This Crazy "Film" Biz

Okay, granted there are the givens that help one stand out: talent, taste, connections, money, good looks -- but what if it was a level playing field?

Are there things that you can put into practice that will help positively separate you from the pack of other hungry artists trying to cement a place for yourself in the field that you love?  Since all of you have helped me with your conversation, appreciation, and general involvement, I wanted to do something that might aid you to get to where you want to go.

The following are some quick thoughts as to what things might quickly make others take notice of you, remember you, or give you some deserved respect.  I am eager to hear other suggestions too.  There are probably one hundred ideas like these, and I think it's time we all started sharing.

  1. Know what you like.  That is, know what you like beyond the stuff that you like just because you made it, or want to make it, or think you can make it.  Understand what you appreciate and why you appreciate it. It is a lot of work to become articulate about creative endeavors, but those communication skills are prized and praised -- and surprisingly rare.  I am still waiting for someone to provide me with their alternative to my list 32 Qualities Of Better Film.  Get to it!
  2. Know your story.  That is, know not just the story you want to tell, or help tell, but know the story of you and how to tell it.  In order to get work done, people need to want to work with you, and they need to explain to others why they should also want to work with you.  Mastering your story or stories should be a goal.  To keep your story evolving is one of the practices I recommend most.
  3. Be heavily engaged in social media.  I know I sound a bit like a broken record on this point, but...  We have not yet even seen the true impact of being part of a large, vibrant, and heavily engaged social media community will have on a work, but when we do, those that are part of it, will be years ahead of those who haven't joined up beyond a Facebook page.  In terms of the film industry, social media is in such infancy, that anyone can become a leader in the field at this point.  The powerful effects of connectivity will benefit you regardless of the role you take on a project -- and it will benefit the project too.  SUPER, which I produced (with Miranda Bailey) partially owes it's discovery, financing, and sale, to the participants' heavy engagement in social media.  What more needs to be said?  In determining whom to hire or collaborate with I look at their talent, their attitude, their personality, and their social media involvement; but that's just me!  I remain amazed -- and depressed -- by how few people in the creative arts have blogs or websites.  Our ability to put good work before the eyes of the best audience is hampered by our lack of involvement in social media.
  4. Don't insist on being the sole author of work.  Be confident that you are the best person to shoot your material AND then give it to others to also shoot. You've seen fan fiction, yes? "Sweded" films, right? They are always of well known work, but what would happen if work in "homage" was made before anyone saw some footage. I would love the opportunity to see how others interpret the material when it is produced in a void (ie. before the core work).   I am confident that someone that did this would get numerous opportunities to tell the story about it, which in turn should increase the audience for their own work.
  5. Be truly collaborative. People remember those that help them. Ben Franklin said that when you wanted something from someone, you should loan them a book. That may be a bit over strategic for my tastes, but people do get inspired to help others the more you help them.  Even more importantly, things do get better when we work together.  Being part of team that made something good will have far more impact than being the author of a mediocre work.  Use your labor for things you believe in; don't undervalue it, even when others do.
  6. Take risks.  Be forward thinking and don't rely on the old ways.  Security is a trap that enhances the status quo. Everything has already changed.  We are living in a world that has already changed to the point our reactions will soon be recognized as absurd.  And although this does not require throwing it all away, it does encourage you to think beyond what has already been written.  The lack of a current economic model for film production encourages experimentation.  The lack of aesthetic approach that recognizes audiences desire to both participate, and be led, to share, spread, and mutate, encourages experimentation.  So get out there, do it, and share your experiences.  We want to hear about them.  We need to hear about them.
  7. Think of cinema in the broadest of ways; don't limit yourself to the confines of development and production.  Have both your creative and outreach plan include discovery, participation, presentation, and appreciation.  Adopt a cross-platform, transmedia approach from the get-go.  As Lance Weiler tends to say, "bake it into your project's DNA".  We all must extend our and our project's reach.
  8. Be recognizable. We all meet too many people to remember the ones we should. I have always liked the idea that I could fade into the background, but coming up with both James Schamus and Christine Vachon, both who had and still have signature looks, I could not help but notice the utility in being known as the guy with the bow tie or the woman in the black rain rain coat.  How do you expect people to remember you?  Why not give them a hand?
  9. Okay, this one only will work if you are among the first to do it, and it is of a much different sort than what I have been listing here but... Localize each edition of your work.  Customize your script so that the characters' names are changed to those of the individuals of the entity you are submitting to.  Imagine the shock and surprise when the reader finds their boss' name or that of their friends.  It's "Being John Malkovich" taken to the next level.  You can extend this other editions of your work, crowdsourcing local elements to drop in for each screening, and utilizing the digital aspects of present day work.  I could go on, but I hope you get the idea.
  10. Don't look to be discovered.  The film industry encourages a plantation or corporate hierarchy way of thinking, which again only benefits the status quo.  This is most represented by the old way of bringing a film to market upon completion.  The filmmakers who design their projects to take directly to their audiences will demonstrate a forward and practical way of thinking -- and one that does not negate a later adoption of old methods (if someone wants to dump a pot of gold on you that is).  Abandon the belief that all you have to do is make a good film and the rest will work out -- it's akin to a slave mentality.  Why do you need someone to discover you?  What you need is to find a way to keep producing new work.

Social Media Strategy Overload Of Nothingness

There is a great deal of empty discussion in terms of what a social media strategy is in the indie film world. There's even a great deal more when it comes to brands. WhatTheFuckIsMySocialMediaStrategy.com does a pretty good job of capturing, albeit with a welcome dose of humor. Just keep restoring the site, and you will get another "pearl" of wisdom with each click.Hat tip to John Paul Rice and Jon Reiss for driving me towards this epic epicness.

Audience Building: Social Media Common Sense

Facebook and Twitter may still be trying to figure out how to make money, but what will inevitably be their "common sense" solution, should also all be all filmmakers "best practices".  By no means am I encouraging spam, but what the studios pay firms big money to do, anyone with some time on their hands can make a noble effort of themselves.

Isn't listing your favorite film or book an invitation to be contacted when someone has something similar to offer?  Say your film is playing at the Ashland Oregon film festival; wouldn't you search the network in that region and then search for folks who liked a similar film as yours?  If you were a fan and you got a personal invite from the filmmaker to come check out the film at the festival, wouldn't you be tempted to go?  Shouldn't this be standard practices for all filmmakers?
Who is doing this now?  How successful is it?  What tips do you have for the rest of us?

14 Steps To A Social Media Plan

Seybold Scientific had a great posting on what you need to do build an effective social media plan.  It's written for businesses but is easily adaptable for film.  Read the whole thing, but here's a brief on the first four:

1) Clearly articulate who your stakeholders are before you begin.
2) Clearly articulate the key issues these stakeholders care about as it relates to your offering. Use a bulleted list with no more than three or four words per item.
3) Begin by researching which, if any, top bloggers are discussing these issues. 
4) Inevitably, any substantial subject matter area has a back channel where top bloggers and influencers chat.