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


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