Why are Australia’s film distributors not using social media?

In an industry where being heard above superheroes and foul-mouthed teddy bears is near impossible, and finance isn’t readily available for above the line marketing, the opportunity to exploit free platforms such as Facebook and Twitter should be grabbed with both hands by film marketers and distributors.

Unfortunately, some Australian film distributors are still struggling with the potential of social media, to turn ripples into waves of that most valued word-of-mouth and push out a little extra content to intrigue prospective fans.

Last week two Australian films opened at the box office; Not Suitable For Children, distributed by Icon Films and directed by first time feature director Peter Templeman across 42 screens nationally, and The King is Dead by local veteran Rolf de Heer, distributed by Pinnacle Films went across just four screens. Over opening weekend the films took $147,000 and $12,000 respectively.

Confidence in Australian audiences clearly wasn’t high enough to open wider, despite the films being marketable and mainstream – that’s if Australian films aren’t immediately pigeon-holed as niche. As a result they didn’t warrant marketing strategies that would see TVCs or comprehensive outdoor campaigns either.

Social media to the rescue, right? Well, in varying degrees, as Mumbrella reader Elliot tipped off in the comment thread to our box office report.

Let me divert you momentarily. When taking a film to market on social media there seems to be two schools of thought, but its social media, so there’s no set formula. Both can work fine but in my opinion only one has long-term benefits, especially for Australian films.

The first school, the lesser of the two, is to create a Facebook/Twitter page for a film. While you’re creating a community around the film, one that might be more engaged than they would be to a distributor, at the end of the film’s run, you’re left with an empty church and the distributor must start from Fan Zero with its next film.

The second school is to push a film’s marketing assets through the distributor’s page rather than its own.

Take Roadshow Films and two of its forthcoming local releases. Dan Goodswen, strategist for We Are Social, the digital agency behind Roadshow Films, told Encore: “Local films Kath and Kimderalla, and Goddess will get the advantage of Roadshow’s 280,000 Facebook fans and 7,500 followers on Twitter which has grown off the promotion of bigger films like Hunger Games and Dark Knight Rises.”

While some indie distributors don’t benefit from the blockbusters, what they most likely have is a tastemaker aspect that they can build on to a specific audience, over and over again. Secondly, if I don’t know about Not Suitable For Children, why on Earth would I search those words in Twitter, to stumble on a film of that title by happenstance?

Unfortunately both Not Suitable For Children and The King is Dead, not only took the first school, but suffered from elements of neglect between film pages and distributor pages.

On Twitter, Not Suitable For Children as the rather cryptic NSFC The Movie Twitter account has kept a decent presence. Since 10 July, two days before the film was officially released, there been a respectable 26 tweeted or retweeted stories to its 257 followers.

On the film’s Facebook page it has links to positive reviews, video clips to songs from the soundtrack, an interview with Templeman by Margaret Pomeranz from At the Movies, photoshoots, film stills and behind the scenes shots posted daily through July and June.

It’s substantial, and its going out to 1,784 Facebook fans.

However, over on its distributor’s page, Icon Films, while a few posts went before, there was just one post on the day of the film’s release and none since to its far greater, 9,579 fanbase.

Likewise, on Twitter, Icon made just one NSFC-related tweet on 6 July, a week before its release, and nothing again to its 3,904 followers.

But here’s the kicker. Icon isn’t even following the Not Suitable For Children Twitter account, or vice versa. So there’s no chance of retweeting, the ripple peeters out.

Worse still, The King is Dead, also released on Thursday through Pinnacle Films, seems in a rush to collect dust at the National Film and Sound Archive.

On Facebook, Pinnacle Films quietly announced the film’s release on 11 July to its 140 fans. Prior to that it posted the trailer and an interview between film journalist Don Groves and de Heer on 27 June. It was even quieter on the distributor’s Twitter feed where just the interview got the 27 June mention. Nothing to remind us the film was in theatres now.

In a last ditch effort, a King is Dead Facebook page was set up four days prior to release. Perhaps out of frustration by the lack of promotion from Pinnacle’s page. To date it has 16 posts of reviews, images and cinema locations going out to just 37 fans. But it all feels too little too late.

Elsewhere, Universal Pictures Australia seem to be using its Twitter feed as a YouTube reminder dumping ground while Sony Pictures Australia are busy on Facebook, but haven’t tweeted in almost a month.

However, it’s not all bad. Hopscotch are far more interactive on both platforms. The distributor got Australian film The Sapphires to trend nationally on Twitter when it dropped the film’s first trailer.

And fortunately, some film-makers get the importance of social media. In an innovative move, and in line with the entire project’s model, the producers of The Tunnel made their digital agency, DLSHS, executive producers on the film. This insured there was a vested interest in the film’s success and by-passed the upfront marketing spend on the low-budget film.

So forget the large shouty ad on the side of the bus. Everyone I see catching public transport has their face in a screen, scanning what their friends have followed and posted. Now more than ever Australians should know what local film is in their cinema and with so much by-product from a film shoot, it’s all content for building social media assets to bring in for fans eat it up. At least more so than offering nothing.

Colin Delaney


  1. JJ
    18 Jul 12
    1:39 pm

  2. Totally agree Colin. Good article.

  3. Chris
    18 Jul 12
    1:46 pm

  4. Completely agree with you. I think the underlying problem here is Film School not teaching marketing properly to up and coming directors, with it being tacked on towards the end of the 2-3 year course and spending maybe 1 or 2 lessons on it.

    And those marketing lessons usually focus on getting investors for your film during the different production stages, not actually selling the finished product.

    Also there is definitely a cultural problem where the industry turns up its nose at commercialism and goes for the ‘it’s art’ justification. Even artists need to get people into the exhibit. And they have a day job if they can’t.

  5. Neil Wilson
    18 Jul 12
    3:32 pm

  6. I believe that both Roadshow Films and Roadshow Entertainment have solid social media strategies that are unique to our individual objectives.

    We are both very active on Facebook with a strong commitment to engaging fans and providing something beyond release announcements.

    At Roadshow Entertainment, we aim to keep our facebook page fresh with new release tabs and special apps, either created locally or localised versions from the studios. Furthermore, we stimulate and particapate in conversations with our Consumers.

    We are proud to extend this activity and join up where we can with organisations like The Cancer Council – visit http://www.roadshow.com.au/5050 and see how you can support.

    While I do not claim to have nailed social media, I think our team is making a pretty good effort.

    Neil Wilson
    Digital Marketing Mgr – Roadshow Entertainment
    (my personal view)

  7. Paul
    18 Jul 12
    4:38 pm

  8. Interesting article. But the implication that the modest/poor result for NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN could have been improved by having a (more) active Twitter feed is a bit of a stretch.

    Universal’s Twitter is shithouse, for sure, but it certainly didn’t seem to hurt TED.

  9. Sarah
    18 Jul 12
    5:20 pm

  10. Maybe Icon didn’t want to make a big song and dance about this film…

    did you watch it? it was probably really bad.

  11. Alex Thomas
    18 Jul 12
    5:28 pm

  12. Great article. I personally feel some distributors are fantastic on Twitter (Madman, Hopscotch and Roadshow) whereas others are very poor.

    The only reason I had heard of The King is Dead was through David + Margaret and considering I spend all day on Twitter that’s crazy. At Cinema Nova on opening night it was very quiet and I even overheard someone say ‘No-one had heard about this movie’ which further strengthens your point.

  13. Martin Walsh
    18 Jul 12
    7:36 pm

  14. This post in on the right track but it is still missing some crucial issues / points….

    First of all, I’ve been saying this exact thing for the last 4 years but it is not as simple as ‘not using social media’.

    Here are the two blog posts I wrote for SPAA (Screen Producers Association Australia) back in 2009. But sadly not much has changed marketing wise:

    1. Can Australian Films Make Money (and why many don’t) – http://bit.ly/eHK2DT
    2. The Future of Filmmaking: Seizing back control of the Six Pillars of Cinema – http://bit.ly/f1oDQ2 (This includes a case study on the marketing for Paranormal Activity which was made on a budget of $15k but which took over USD$183m at the box office alone.

    Secondly, marketing and digital marketing really only work well when it is all part of an integrated strategy / plan. Tactics and channels work best together and compliment each other, there is no magic, free, digital shortcut. 83% of social media marketing projects / activities fail because there is no strategy or plan.

    Social media or social networking is NOT social media marketing. If you don’t have a plan, a strategy, use the technology which helps achieve your objectives, is the technology your intended audiences uses and visits, you will fail. There is no mandatory checklist of having to create a Twitter account and a Facebook account etc. And importantly; 1. a Twitter and Facebook account is NOT a social media or digital marketing plan, 2. there is no such thing as build it and they will come.

    Social conversations need to be inspired, facilitated, continuously energised and occasionally influenced. (See Paranormal Activity case study example at link above)

    Most brands, movies or companies still treat Twitter or Facebook or other channels as an RSS feed. Content is King, Engagement is Queen and Distribution is God! But, content must be varied for the different channels, there is no one size fits all and certain content works better on certain channels.

    The two blog posts above also go into other critical reasons behind why many Australian films are not succeeding and they aren’t all about marketing or the lack of.

    Anyway I could go on and on but rather than just whine I put my experience and learning online to try and help improve some of this knowledge and execution – here is my Social Influence Marketing Strategy Framework (on SlideShare) and the principles can be applied on a low budget or a significant budget – http://slidesha.re/hNHbao

  15. Colin Delaney
    19 Jul 12
    9:10 am

  16. Hi Sarah
    I did watch Not Suitable For Children, and it was good fun. I recommend it. I’ve not had a chance to see King is Dead yet but intend to catch it


  17. Nicky Moore
    19 Jul 12
    11:48 am

  18. Creating an engagement strategy should start in pre-production. Producers have to be thinking about what content they want to use in the projects promotion (ideally) prior to starting principal photography. Engagement works best when you have contextual content that communities can seed and share within their networks. Video, text, images – the works. Try and create the bulk of your shareable content after you’ve shot the film and you’ll be in for a hard slog.

    I was the BTS Producer and Social strategist behind the “Tomorrow When the War Began” theatrical and DVD release campaigns. We shot over 60 hours of potential behind the scenes content during production that we later used to support the social media/web campaign. The social strategy began at least 5 months prior to the projects theatrical release. I spent days, nights and weekends responding to anyone who posted on our Facebook page (and to a lesser extent our Twitter profile). When tickets went on pre-sale we provided real-time suport for those looking for advice on where to book, how to buy and how long they’d have to wait for the Event Cinema website to come back online (after crashing due to the demand). Lol.

    We replicated a similar strategy for the DVD/Digital Download release campaign and the results speak for themselves.

    I love this quote by Paul Adams (Product Guru @ Facebook) “To be a successful advertiser on the web in the future, you will need to build content based on many, lightweight interactions over time.” If you’re looking for an algorithm thats works, this is the one. That being said, NO social media campaign can conceal a bad product. If the content is bad you won’t find an audience.

  19. Glenn
    20 Jul 12
    12:25 pm

  20. Great article – we need to talk more about the wasted opportunities for Australian films throughout social media in the hopes that this’ll change.
    Setting up a Facebook & Twitter account should be one of the first things done before even principal photography.

  21. Elliot Clifford
    20 Jul 12
    2:03 pm

  22. Good one Colin! Great piece and some great comments (5. Sarah obviously not one of those).

    Colin, I’m so glad you brought up the guys from the Tunnel. I’ve been subscribed to them on Facebook for an entire year now and they have not stopped posting the entire time. They’re regular, entertaining, insightful – they’re out there with the people. The inbuilt audience they’ll have for their next film is going to serve them well.

    Nicky, thank you for jumping on here and dishing out some insight. TWTWB truly earned its various successes. I remember the time of release and it felt simultaneously strange AND comforting that Australians were buzzing about a local film. The various marketing arms turned it into an event. It can be done. There are successful examples we can draw on, from both a marketing and content perspective (and by ‘content’, I mean making the films that there is an audience for).

    This country can’t do Spiderman. What it CAN do is to thrive in the Death at a Funeral/District 9/Best Exotic Merigold Hotel/Taken/Chronicle/In Bruge/Magic Mike end of the spectrum.

  23. Craig
    21 Jul 12
    7:16 pm

  24. Australian film distributors have had an easy ride. They get told what movies will come to Australia, they get given all the marketing materials and they get told what to do.

    No wonder the industry has zero capability to innovate or think for itself.

    They are not hungry or passionate about their movies – and it shows in the ways they promote them, paint-by-number.

    I would love to see someone in the Australian film distribution industry who really believed in their product and was prepared to shout about it from the rooftops.

    Unfortunately the industry seems to not even be in the room, let alone at the table on caring about their own products.

    I guess they get paid whether the movie does well or not. They are rent-seekers, not owners.

  25. Elliot Clifford
    23 Jul 12
    10:27 am

  26. Hi Craig,

    One of the few ‘shout it from the rooftops’ examples I’ve seen recently is Madman’s distribution of The Loved Ones. They went big with outdoor space and most notably TV space (seems to be the rarest space for Aussie films to try and sell in). It was great to see such confidence in their product – and crushing to see the lack of return. However, I can’t say they deserved their box office total, they really gave it a solid push. They obviously believed in that film and moved ahead with a large and gutsy promotional campaign.

    They’ve since continued their social media campaign as the film expands overseas – lots of regular worthwhile content popping up on their FB and twitter feeds (with combined audience of 80,000+ subscribers).

    Cases like that are but one of only a few exceptions. I agree with you, if only all distributors shared the same drive and ambition to put bums on seats. It’s not going to happen by accident.

  27. Nicky Moore
    23 Jul 12
    11:29 am

  28. My pleasure Elliot!

    Interesting that you bring up “The Loved Ones” (another Omnilab project). I’ve been watching its progress over the last few years. Harry Knowles (Ain’t it Cool News) recently got behind a limited 2012 US theatrical release. There was some discussion about 9 seconds of the film being cut by the MPAA, see: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/56089 … it’s really attracting a cult following and I’m expecting the “slow boil” to continue over the next few years.

    I’d almost compare “The Loved Ones” success to that of “Donnie Darko”. Give it some time and it’ll get there I’m sure. See: http://www.nysun.com/arts/how-.....o-die/134/

    I’d almost argue that we’re undervaluing DVD and Digital Download in the overall scheme of things… but now I’m getting off point. Lol

  29. Rochelle Siemienowicz
    23 Jul 12
    12:28 pm

  30. Great article. Thanks for raising the issue. At the AFI | AACTA we’ve been using social media for years as the quickest, cheapest, easiest way to get the word out about Australian film and television. Social media won’t make a bad film good, and a lack of social media won’t hurt a big Hollywood film that has many other promotional tools in its well-funded arsenal. But for Australian content trying to break through to local audiences, social media is an invaluable tool. There is simply no excuse not to use it. Sure, it can be scary and we’re all learning as we go. It’s a whole new world in terms of letting go of control of your brand, and interacting one-on-one. It’s time-intensive and requires personal attention and a genuine passion for sharing. But these are qualities Australian distributors, networks and filmmakers should surely nurture. And yes, there are many great examples of them doing just that.

    Rochelle Siemienowicz
    AFI | AACTA editor

  31. Doug
    23 Jul 12
    2:42 pm

  32. Have a look at the Aussie movie “Housos vs Authority” the movie Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/housostv it has 75,000 likes, and a very active cast fully engaging their fan base with the same language… and a twitter account that retweets the cast and fan comments… Transmission Films and the Housos production team are doing it well (yes, Transmission are a client of mine) We are asking fans “what cinema should we show the movie?” “What radio station do you listen to?” etc etc – using that info to help form promotions…

  33. Elliot Clifford
    24 Jul 12
    1:22 pm

  34. Hey Doug, thanks for the heads up on the Housos page. I’d be willing to be those guys know their audience inside out – the number of insights they can harvest from their FB page would be valuable. With that amount of audience activity, it’s not just a one way street for promotion, it’s a learning tool and data bank for the content creators.

    And Rochelle, totally right. Films of this size can’t afford to ignore the opportunity – which is why I got all fired up about it to begin with. Opt-in audience + free promotion = no brainer.

  35. Gary
    26 Jul 12
    12:18 pm

  36. boring

  37. Jiao Chen
    31 Jul 12
    10:09 pm

  38. I think it’s more important for filmmakers to build a brand around themselves and actively engage with their audiences on social media. Very very few Australian directors and producers do this on Twitter and Facebook. After all, I’m pretty sure audiences would rather feel like they are engaging with a real life filmmaker than with an anonymous PR person.

  39. Luci Temple
    14 Aug 12
    3:45 pm

  40. Lots of good points here, in the comments too, especially from Martin Walsh and Nicky Moore.

    The key issue here is one of accountability and the need for evolution, as the old business model involved leaving it up to distributors to control the marketing (and some contracts won’t let the filmmakers do their own thing), yet distributors are a business and if they make easier money out of promoting the big budget US movies then they simply don’t have enough skin in the game to be bothered marketing Australian movies more effectively.

    The people who have the most at stake are perhaps the filmmakers, who have often spent years developing and making the movie, blood sweat & tears, with a lot riding on its success or failure. Yet many of them – certainly the established filmmakers who have been making movies for 20+ years – are not necessarily prepared or skilled to take on marketing responsibilities.

    [And even the term “filmmaker” is ambiguous when on a project there could be five different ‘producers’ in some form, plus the director, and it may only be one of two of these people who is heavily vested while the others are spread across multiple projects and only dipping their toe in – who on the team considers themselves accountable to ensuring the film is a success in the marketplace?].

    The next evolution of filmmakers such as those behind The Tunnel are already on and using social media in their day to day existence, however being less established they have trouble getting their projects actually funded – which means they don’t necessarily have a produced “film” to distribute or sell.

    However this is changing, with crowdfunding techniques, filmmakers are beginning to build audiences early on to help them gain support to make their projects, and with initiatives such as Screen West & Pozible’s 3:1 deal (WA filmmakers who crowdfund will gain $3 from Screen West for every $1 gained from their fans – up to a max of $150,000 per film) we can expect more innovation and results in this space.

    Yes distributors should get better at using low budget marketing like social media in the mix; and yes filmmakers should be doing it themselves as they can’t rely on the distributor to, and it takes longer than a couple weeks to build an audience so they need to start early; however on any given project its only going to happen if someone stands up and takes responsibility for the marketing rather than expecting someone else to take care of it.