Audience… Where are you? – ED workshop in Sofia 2015

by Isabella Weber

The ability to target and reach the right audience for a film can make the difference between a successful release and a flop. The Europa Distribution workshop, which took place on 13th and 14th of March within the framework of the “Sofia Meetings”, gathered 21 European distributors eager to share their experiences on the topic and to learn from others’ best practices. Part of the workshop was organized in collaboration with Europa Cinemas to create a space for distributors and exhibitors to meet and exchange ideas.

The distributors selected for the workshop came from very different companies and professional background but they soon realised they all have something in common. “We are all struggling for an audience,” said Andreas Baumann, general manager of the German company Drei-Freunde Filmverleih.

The issue was tackled from multiple perspectives. Anne Sanchez from Agence Mercredi (France)

made a strong case on the importance of treating each film as a unique case. “A strong marketing mix does not necessarily tie to a strong budget. If you have an angle to market the film you can always find your audience”. She presented several successful releases managed by her agency that went from films distributed on 1 copy (“Scratch”), to big blockbusters such as The Hunger Games. Sanchez showed how small arthouse films can be promoted with the same tools used for films with much larger budgets: contests for the audience use of brands and retailers, partnerships with institutions and of course a smart use of social networks.

The constant changes in the social networks’ sphere seem also a common worry to most distributors, who need to constantly rebuild their online community from scratch. According to the moderator of the panel Domenico La Porta, editor-in-chief of and Head of Transmedia at Wallimage, the golden rule does not exist: “There isn’t one “better” social network for promoting films. It all depends on the kind of film, on the angle you are using to promote it and on the time window in which it’s going to be released. Instagram works very well for some films and it’s great to target kids but if your film is not visual enough it becomes useless.”

Torsten Frehse, CEO of Neue Visionen Filmverleih, highlighted the importance that trailer boosting had in some of his last most successful campaigns. “The cooperation with cinemas in this case is essential as they can reach a different audience. Covering some of the costs of cinemas’ social network campaigns can be extremely effective.” Frehse focused his presentation on new models for film distributors to approach different target groups, including senior citizens, who are harder to reach via web marketing.

As film programmer of the EYE filmmuseum in Amsterdam, Bob Blöte offered a privileged insight on audience. “People are looking for shared cultural and leisure experiences outside of their home environment.” Thanks to the special facilities of its new site, the EYE can attract the audience with interesting package deals which offer a combination of special guests, tours, food and drinks and, of course, films. “Many people like the idea they have booked a complete night out with everything taken care of.”

The importance of creating events around the screenings was highlighted by exhibitors as well during the joint session of Europa Distribution and Europa Cinemas:

“In Europe the discussion is very focused on the accessibility, but giving access to content does not mean creating demand. Context is everything and we sometimes forget that people enjoy the experience of going to the movies also because they share it with others,” remarked Madeleine Probst, cinema programmer at Watershed and vice-president of Europa Cinemas, during her presentation of the programme “Conversations about the Cinema”. The project, started by Watershed, involves now several arthouse cinemas across the UK who program the same films and involve their communities in “conversations” about topics central to the films.

If the involvement of the audience is such a key factor for a successful film release, why not engaging the public already in selection process? Malgorzata Kostro-Olechowska, Head of Promotion of the Polish distribution company Gutek Film presented “Scope 50”, a project selected last year by Creative Europe which is now running in Poland, UK, Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria. All the distributors involved agreed to release in their country one film chosen directly by a selected audience of 50 members who voted their favourite from a selection of 10 arthouse films available exclusively for them on Festival Scope.

During the first part of the workshop, only involving distributors, another international collaboration aimed at connecting with the audience had already been highlighted by Gábor Böszörményi. The Managing Director of the Hungarian distribution company Mozinet Ltd. had in fact presented the “KineDok” project which is currently taking place in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Croatia, thanks also to the financing of the Creative Europe programme. “In Hungary the great majority of arthouse cinemas are in Budapest and it’s hard to reach this niche audience in the rest of the country. By using non-traditional venues for the screenings, with KineDok we can meet a new audience.” The first edition of KineDok is presenting 12 East and Central European documentaries in more than 20 non-traditional venues for each of the participating countries.

Cooperation among European distributors and a more direct involvement of local exhibitors are proving to be powerful tools to promote European films. Distributors are well aware of the challenges of the internet era and of the necessity of adapting rapidly to their audience’s new habits. Europa Distribution will keep working on this theme within the network to find with them new and creative solutions.

N.B. ED members can have access to the presentations on the Consulting & Reporting section