Is social media useful to film makers or simply an empty promise and a distraction?

Is social media useful for film makers or a distraction?

Last Sunday I did a live radio show in LA, Film Courage, which went out to thousands of film makers around the world. I blogged about it in my last post where you can hear the podcast here. The final question in the show is actually given to the guest, and so I thought I might challenge the new considered wisdom that ‘social media may not be very useful…’ I was in part being purposefully contentious to open up debate, but I also wanted to highlight a trend I have seen – some film makers have started to rely more and more on the internet and social media, distancing themselves even further from traditional media. I believe this is a mistake.

Boy did it spark a mini controversy!

Above is a video response from PMD Adam Adam Daniel Mezei. And below is some of the chatter from Facebook.  I will respond to these points in the next few days, as well as add some more thoughts, but I just wanted to give you the chance to add you voice to the debate. Please leave your thoughts at the end of the blog.

OK Adam was good enough to transcribe some of my comments for those who have not listened to the show. Here we go…

“Is all of this social media stuff really worth it? I mean, is it really wise to be gunning for those small 5,000-strong ‘audience ghettos,’ or should we instead be aiming to make films that have the capacity of landing half-a-million-strong audiences, 1M-sized audiences, or even 4M-sized ones?”

His response is the video above. Below are a few of the FB comments.

Adding to this–Robert Rodriguez was discussed in this thread. You can also mention Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee and others who are branded with character, personality and individualism. Do they… always make the best films all the time? Depends who you ask–but most people who watch movies know WHO THEY ARE.
Miles Maker

MrMoe SaysAll jokes aside, I’m beginning to suspect we are approaching an indie market that may have more film makers, then movie goers.

Deb WalshThose who ask “is it ‘worth’ the effort” might consider going to square one to really learn about the dynamics of “social affiliation” and how all the dimensions of the web today are colluding to propel people, products and brands forward (…or NOT, depending on how one engages). The film industry is treading the same path that music did 8 years ago…old models are fast dying and indies have to embrace the new realities of DIY/online marketing and self-distro options. Denying its “worth” leaves you with little more than denial of the new realities of integrated marketing. It also leaves you with the old “push” style marketing – and that alone just won’t cut it. (brilliant comments, Miles!)
Deb Walsh

Adam Daniel MezeiYet while we’re in the middle of this transitional storm, there is a wealth of newly democratized film — and sorry to use the word — shlock — that we as an industry must digest and contend with despite clear signs from the market that there’s no stomach for that sort of “art.” Moreover, and this tracks back to something Jones said in the interview — filmmakers not only have a fiduciary responsibility to their investors to pay back sums forwarded, but they also have a responsibility to the legions of filmmakers who follow in their wake to ensure that the scene is not sullied by their irresponsibility. Adam Daniel Mezei

All food for thought. Go on, leave a comment with your view.

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author

8 Responses to Is social media useful to film makers or simply an empty promise and a distraction?

  1. Simon Naylor August 20, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    I speak from a position as a new indie film maker and without social media, our campaign would almost be dead in the water. These ‘social networking’ sites are indeed a platform on which every man and his dog can promote (or try to!) their film/arts project etc. What still counts is making it work and having the nouse and drive to recognise that social media is JUST a platform on which to build and go forward. Yes, we grab audiences of 5000 – but these started out as audiences of 5 and with the right handling can grow to 5 million.
    We need to raise £1.1 million and in a world where small fish swim with sharks in a massive pond. I think that these networks are a massive part of an indie film makers tool kit and invaluable in providing a project the growth spurt it needs to become initially recognised for that first injection of funding and support.

  2. J.T. August 20, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    I certainly think it’s an interesting discussion to have. I read an article recently talking (on a larger scale) about Scott Pilgrim and how, “despite its popularity on Twitter”, it had a disappointing opening weekend. I suspect it will have a cult like following and will do okay in the long run, but it makes you wonder about whether or not you can rely on social media popularity to gauge the audience who will actually show up.

    On a smaller scale, I think it comes down to how you use social media platforms and what your goals are in doing so as to whether or not it can be deemed “useful”. Don’t start a Facebook or Twitter campaign without a plan, a method and a series of goals. It can’t be simply, “I’m going to get 5000 followers, they’ll each donate $10 and then I’ll have $50,000 to make my film.

    The quality of the message/material you put out MUST be representative of the quality of the project you are working on.

  3. zahra August 21, 2010 at 10:33 am #


    Here’s my two penneth. I think we need to remember Sheri Candler’s words about social media being engagement/ relationship/ conversation media. That means a couple of things – first and foremost that it’s a two way street – listen as well as talking – as my dear mad old dad says, you have two ears and one mouth, this means you should listen twice as much as you talk! I watch filmmakers on FB and Twitter all the time and it’s all me me me – there is one guy who every time I log in to Twitter my whole timeline is FULL of him and his film! It’s all PUSH PUSH PUSH – SELL SELL SELL! – wtf? I can’t be bothered – what is my motivation to help him out? Someone said to me the other day – why does X never comment on anything I put on FB or Twitter? I mean it’s all good stuff, yet someone else puts an inane status up and they get tons of comments. I said because they look at FB as a NETWORK and you can’t help them, whereas the “good” people use it for SOCIAL purposes.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is a lot of us, filmmakers, all comment and engage with other filmmakers and each other on FB and Twitter, but we don’t use the TOOLS properly as an outreach mechanism to our audience. I think for SM marketing outreach to really work you need to be directing potential audience members to our work, not just other filmmakers… Cause if we are doing our work as filmmakers properly, we should all already be aware of each other’s (the competition’s) work!!!

    We as filmmakers need to get our audiences sufficiently “invested” in our projects – show them the people behind the project. Don’t just shove your message down people’s throats – that just pisses people off! Be real, be authentic – don’t be a twat! Why should anyone fund your film? Why should anyone watch your film? Give them compelling reasons. And don’t forget a ticket to the movies to see your film costs the same as one to watch shiny shiny Avatar!

    We’ve been using Facebook to promote our (yet to be made) film since June 2009. It’s only when we started using the tools properly ie not like selfish twats, since late May 2010 that we have started seeing decent results! In the first 11 months we reached 700+ Likes, since we’ve been targeting and engaging properly – the figures have doubled!!!

    I wouldn’t be pimpin’ properly if I didn’t shamelessly plug my film to y’all – if you get a chance and you’re so inclined – “LIKE” our film on Facebook –

  4. Bryan O'Neil August 21, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    Here is my 2p on the issue. I think that social networking can be useful during various stages of the film making process but shouldn’t be used in isolation when more effective techniques exist.

    I am in the middle of making my first film (in post) and that is all I have to base this on. Having a professional looking website was a real plus for us in helping to recruit crew and to entice investment. It backed up what you said in person and set you aside from others.

    My original vision for my films website ( was to have lots of videos of pre-production and of the film shoot itself. I wanted each crew member to be blogging about the process. I even considered holding meetings on Google Wave and being able to replay them on the website. In the end though I made a conscious decision not to do any of these. The reason being that it would have taken away the focus from making the best film possible. Being in a room face to face with someone when you are discussing ideas or bonding before the stress of working on set is critical.

    Getting the balance right between promotion and developing your film is the key. I think having facebook, twitter and a cool website are going to be great tools to push your film forward if it starts getting some attention but realistically the chances of getting a million facebook fans is pretty minimal for a indie film.

    If you have a great film that you don’t know how to market or distribute then that is a great problem to have. I would take that over having a bad film with 10000 facebook fans any day.

    I have some ideas on how to market my film but some of those include cheap offline networking which in combination with the online community may possible start that network ball rolling.

    Lastly I made a list the other week around what makes me watch a film. I probably watch on average a film day so where do they all come from.

    – Magazine Reviews
    – Newspaper Reviews
    – Mark Kermode Podcast
    – London Underground Posters
    – Particular Director (using IMDB)
    – Particular Actor (using IMDB)
    – Friend Recommendation

    – Missed at the cinema (see above)
    – Special Offer
    – Cover Design
    – Cover Review Quote
    – Amazon (Like this then you will like…)
    – Internet Top Sellers (by category)

    So as someone who loves films, works fulltime in IT as a computer programmer and is on facebook every day I still have never watched anyone’s film based on social networking. If the film has a buzz around it I might watch the trailer and make a decision of whether I want to see it.

    But maybe (and hopefully) I am missing something!

  5. @davidpbaker August 21, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    Hey, if you can get the big boys to fund and market your films, sure, not worth the effort! lol! But lets stay in the REAL world. 99% of filmmakers dont have that option.

    Our fathers and grandfathers built busineses over YEARS! blood, sweat, one customer at a time. Whether we like it or not, filmmakers have to see our path as “creative business”

    Social media has been here for no time at all, and we even ask “Is it worth the bother” (sigh) It lets me see filmmakers are still the worst biz people in the world. We are so used to everybody else dealing with our work. And dealing with our money.

    It is laughable, because 99% of filmmakers have never made money the conventional way. The big problem is. If you have OUTSTANDING films, you get noticed by the industry. You get work. To me, thats still the way too

    If you dont want the industry, and want to go alone, and you have OUTSTANDING films, OTHER PEOPLE will market you via social media. We have a film culture where tools are so cheap that masses of filmmakers can make films, and most are crap. So people don’t pass them on.

    Because of that, sure, you have to market the hell out of them. I agree with miles, filmmakers that are successful are their own brand too. But, we also need movies that have lots of spin off content, great marketing plans, so others market the movie.

    Im the last 12 hours I just might have a deal to make a film because of a social media connection. And I have connected with so many potential collaborators. So that alone is positive for me to use it.

    We all have to start usiing it properly, thats the problem. Its NOT the numbers. Ashton Kutcher has more twitter followers than small countries, and his movies still do shit.

    But hey, like I said, everybody talks like they are turning down Hollywood. If you are thinking of leaving your studio deal, then yes, dump social media.

    Personally, its a 5-7 plan for me. Hopefully freelance industry, mixed with social media, mailing list, building a personal brand name long haul graft.


  6. madison paige August 21, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    I don’t think you can ignore traditional marketing any more than you can social media marketing. I think they are only effective if used wisely. the positive about SM marketing is that it removes geographical constraints and has the potential to increase exposure. But that will not work without laying a strong groundwork first and should not be relied upon primarily. Face-to-face traditional shoe leather approaches are more time consuming, more tedious, more interpersonal and, person-for-person, probably more effective. But the reality of filmmaking today, whether you’re an indie or a huge studio is that success must incorporate both.

  7. zahra August 22, 2010 at 10:40 am #

    Yeah Madison, I do think it’s important to remember that SM marketing is only one of the tools that you need to promote your film and get it out there. The thing is compared to traditional marketing and the stuff that distributors use, it is VERY cheap. I did some research on this for both my business plan and a blog posting (shameless plug here: – Bus ads are £500 and Tube ads £1200. It soon adds up. Face to face is best, but sometimes impossible to negotiate due to geographical constraints.

    I do think filmmakers (particularly directors) need to concentrate on making the best film they can – but filmmaking is a team process – which is why Jon Reiss’s Think Outside The Box Office stuff resonates so much. He proposes a new crew position – the Producer of Marketing and Distribution (PMD), who like other crew will be paid (or deferred or whatever) but will focus on the marketing and distribution of the film. As he (and countless others who have gone this route) have said – DIY isn’t DIY really it’s DIWO (Do It With Others). I’m a producer, not a director and around preparing business plans for investors and meeting HoDs, crew and partners, scheduling, budgeting and all the other stuff I don’t have a ton of time to spend on SM marketing. That’s why we brought someone else on, as a semi PMD. She does 90% of the marketing and I’m doing most of the distribution research etc. We share the role – without Jon’s book and workshop that Chris hosted I wouldn’t have had the confidence to strategise and carry out the plan.

    Even though I had seen Peter Broderick a couple of times and had been wanting to give a hybrid distribution model a go (seeing as the traditional model generally leaves the filmmakers penniless) I couldn’t articulate what I wanted and I didn’t have the time to learn how everything works. This is where the workshop proved invaluable – even though it was a total mindf*** with so much information to take in – it gave me the tools and the notes (30 pages of them) to start building the strategy and to bring on the right people to help me make it work. Very few filmmakers produce, write, direct, shoot and edit their own work – so why would they think they have to distribute it? All that is being said is if you hire the people and you control it then you stand to profit from it, rather than just getting an MG that may not cover your costs.

    In every other business, the “producer” makes a product and then hires distributors to deliver the product to the customer. All I think is, that works in every other business yet in ours we build the product (make the film) and then hope a distributor will take our film on. I think it’s time we assumed the mantle and took “hope” out of the equation.

  8. David August 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

    I agree with Bryan: there is a real danger that we tend to overestimate the benefits of social media marketing.

    We do it because it’s a cheap; because we can do it ourselves, albeit with expert guidance; and because there is a tiny chance that it will pay off and our product will be discovered, either by somebody with influence or by a lot of interested customers.

    Working against us is the fact that social media, like the rest of the Internet, is full of other people trying to do the same thing. I suspect that a large number of successful social marketing campaigns only work because they are substantially different from the norm. In that sense, they are only natural extensions of previous guerilla marketing tactics (The Blair Witch Project being a prime example of such a success).

    Worse, social media is inherently ephemeral: that “I like Chris Jones” link will disappear off the bottom of the feed almost as soon as it’s been added.

    Furthermore, social media is also increasingly juvenile. Just because you and I use social networking as a useful, adult communications tool, does not mean that our emerging market use it that way.

    It’s so easy to “like” something that the recommendation is devalued. It has no authority. A traditional ad – on the side of the bus, say – has authority precisely because it cost money to put there.

    As Bryan says, a recommendation in person is something I’d listen to and maybe act upon. A recommendation in a magazine is authoritative, so likewise, potentially actionable. But a “like” for your film on a social networking site has equal standing to the dozens – maybe hundreds – of other recommendations that appear in the feed and disappear hours later. You are competing for attention not only with products in every conceivable market, but also politics, personal grudges, individual quotations, and the completely nonsensical.

    A social media recommendation has exactly the same value for your product as it does for all of the following genuine examples from Facebook. Facing this level of competition, is your product wheat, or is it chaff?


    I actually find Chandler’s jokes funny [237,000 likes]

    Tears are words the heart cant say. [458,000 likes]

    “Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” -Bob Marley [2.9 million likes]

    I’ve taken these examples from the Facebook profiles of two teenagers. Between them, they have 300-odd “likes” and barely half a dozen in total are for an actual specific product, artist, book or film.

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