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This Chick’s Flicks: Dear Rashida Jones

This Chick’s Flicks newbies should pause here and read the original “chick flick” definitional piece first.

To the rest of you, away we go…

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Dear Readers,

Today, with your indulgence, I’d like to do something a bit different. Instead of writing to you, I’m going to write to Rashida Jones. Enjoy the show!

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Dear Rashida,

Among your tweets this past weekend was one that said:

Your question is both valid and difficult. And, if you’ll permit me a few moments of your time, I’d like to take a stab at it.

How can a filmmaker and/or studio get ME to see their small movie?

I’m easy (in this regard): ask and you shall receive. Your tweet reminded me that: (a) I had been meaning to see Celeste and Jesse Forever; and (b) I had no other plans on Sunday afternoon. So, off I went to my local East Village movie theater. (P.S. There were approximately 50 others in the theater—not too shabby for NYC on Sunday of Labor Day weekend.)

How can a filmmaker and/or studio get PEOPLE to see their small movie?

This question is complex, and probably even more so than I realize. Undoubtedly, the jobs of many depend on evaluating the wide variety of factors that contribute to its answer. Nonetheless, I’m going to suggest that a large piece of the puzzle is dictated by common sense.

First, the movie needs to identify its primary audience. As I am writing to you, Rashida, I’ll use Celeste and Jesse Forever. While I saw a number of men in the theater, I think your film is primarily targeted at women, putting it squarely within my definition of a “chick flick.” Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this is correct and move on.

Second, any product that targets women in some primary way must understand two fundamental truths about us girls: (1) we love to talk, particularly about things we like and/or dislike; and (2) there are few recommendations we’ll trust more than those of our girlfriends. We know them; they know us. Ergo, if anyone is going to know what we’ll like or dislike, it’s them. We may give some credence to the opinions of reviewers or celebrities on Twitter, but ultimately what our gal pals have to say on the matter (a.k.a. word-of-mouth marketing) is likely to win out.

I’ll concede that trusting any portion of a movie’s marketing to word of mouth is a gamble governed by a mysterious and flaky mistress that I’m going to call the X factor: a combination of the paths by which word of mouth is spread and the speed at which it moves, yielding a web of communication created by its movement.

So defined, it may seem as though film promoters have little more than mere hope that “the odds [will] be ever in [their] favor.” But, maybe all is not as it seems…

How can filmmakers, studios, and promoters attempt to control the X factor?

Here are just a few suggestions on ways to target your intended audience and help them connect with your movie, even before they’ve seen it.

(1) Pre-Release Giveaways

More than 50 years ago, Barrett Strong sang some pretty true words:

“The best things in life are free

But you can give them to the birds and bees

I need money.”

Like it or not, it is true that money talks. So, if your movie has a little cash lying around, try impressing your target audience with pre-theatrical release giveaways. I’m not talking about gifts of the Oprah’s Favorite Things variety. Just something that helps your intended audience connect with the movie.

For example, a few weeks before the 2011 opening of A Good Old Fashioned Orgy at the Regal Union Square theater, I happened upon a free t-shirt giveaway to promote the movie’s upcoming release. Being the kind of person who would publicly wear a t-shirt bearing the legend “Labor Day Orgy,” I was totally psyched about this t-shirt (and still wear it, most recently, this past weekend, in honor of this year’s Labor Day). As those in the know are aware—and as I learned when I went to see A Good Old Fashioned Orgy at the Regal Union Square theater shortly thereafter—t-shirts identical to the one in my closet play a small but hilarious role in the movie itself. Thanks to a t-shirt, I have a permanent connection to A Good Old Fashioned Orgy. I saw it in theaters, loved it, bought it on DVD, and routinely suggest it to my friends.

Now, you may be saying that the film bought me…and did so cheaply. In reply, I say: you may be right, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the movie, how cool I feel every time I wear that shirt, or my sincerity when I recommend the movie to my friends.

(2) ‘Personal’ Interaction

Barrett Strong’s first line was correct too: the best things in life are free. By this, I mean simple things like asking (or contractually requiring as part of promotional efforts) members of the cast and crew to interact with your potential audience through social media venues like Twitter and Facebook. A retweet or reply costs you very little time, but can have great significance to the other person. And I guarantee that most people who are retweeted or who receive a reply will want to share it with others.

For example, this past weekend, Nia Vardalos tweeted the following to her 214,917 followers:

As I had gone with two of my besties and my sister to see For a Good Time, Call… at the Sunshine the night before, I followed her instructions and tweeted her. Fifteen minutes later, I received a notification that this had happened:

Did I (and do I still) feel cool? You bet! This cost Nia Vardalos mere seconds, and For a Good Time, Call… nothing, but did more to establish a connection between me and the film than any trailer or commercial could.

(3) Screenings, Screenings, Screenings

If the studio or company distributing your movie is willing to do so (i.e., commit the $$, plan for potential piracy/spoiler risks, etc.), pre-release screenings are all the rage right now. I think their popularity is somewhat self-explanatory. The screening audience feels special because they got to see a movie before its release date (and for free). And when people feel special, they can’t wait to brag to everyone and anyone who will listen.

(4) General Social Media Presence

If your project can afford it, hire a company to do an integrated social media package for the film: website, Facebook page, official (and verified) Twitter account, Pinterest, etc.

As not all movies can spend this kind of dough, some may, to their surprise, get support from an unaffiliated stranger in the form of a Twitter “fan” account, or the like. These accounts are unaffiliated with the movie’s production and/or distribution, and are often run anonymously. For an excellent example, see the Pitch Perfect Fan account, @PitchPerfectFan, which began its tweet-based publicity campaign at least several weeks prior to the official account, @PitchPerfect.

If this occurs, and the person has the good sense to use the account appropriately and positively, I encourage you to encourage your masked supporter. Recognize that this person is voluntarily performing a task that others are paid for—usually solely on the basis of having seen and loved a first trailer—and hop on the bandwagon. As fan accounts that do not have their own website/Internet presence are unlikely to merit Twitter verification, they will need your help to flourish. So, help them help you. Follow the account, retweet it, engage with it. Again, so long as the fan account is used responsibly, your support costs you little compared to the benefit you stand to gain.

I speak from personal experience on this point, having run a Twitter fan account for an independently-produced movie for the past two months. (The film’s name is not important here because the account’s purpose is to promote the movie, and not to promote me.) Numbers-wise, the account has never had more than 50 followers. But, if I managed to retweet someone who loved the movie, thus making them feel special and motivating them to continue sharing their adoration with others, or if I convinced even one person to see the movie in theaters, then I consider my time well spent.

. . .

So, I lied—I actually took way more than a few moments of your time. Despite my lacking capability with brevity, it is nonetheless true that the only way to ensure that the kind of movies you enjoy continue to be made is to demonstrate that there is a market for them. As with all other markets, this one too will grow only with the help of its current participants. As such, word-of-mouth marketing and the X factor, inestimable and uncertain as they may be, must not be discounted by small films.

After all, I’m willing to bet, Rashida, that you did not foresee that your tweet would inspire this post, which will be tweeted to Screen Invasion‘s 7,708 followers, and retweeted to my 114 followers—to say nothing of how many people those users might tweet or email it to.

I offer my sincere congratulations on a well-made movie that can be described as ‘small’ only in terms of its budget.

Your fan,

Sarah D. Katz

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So, faithful readers, if you are still with me, I ask you to do you part in proving me right: go see Celeste and Jesse Forever immediately, if not sooner. (Find showtimes near you here!) Then, tell all your friends to go and do the same.

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Want more chick flicks?

First, check out previous This Chick’s Flicks pieces.

Then, stay tuned to Screen Invasion for This Chick’s Flicks posts on chick flicks of now and then.

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Follow Sarah Katz on Twitter (@sarahdkatz) for daily Chick Flick recommendations (or tweet her for more suggestions), and stay tuned to Screen Invasion via Twitter (@ScreenInvasion) and Facebook.

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Celeste and Jesse Forever photos: © 2012 – Sony Pictures Classics; A Good Old Fashioned Orgy Regal Union Square t-shirt table photo: © 2011 Samuel Goldwyn Films.

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The Author

Sarah Katz

Sarah Katz

Born-and-bred New Yorker. Lifelong film & TV lover—from chick flicks, rom-coms, rom-droms, rom-drams, and tweentertainment, to Shakespeare, period pieces, James Bond, fairy tales, and mafia movies.