By Sarah Quinless 

As part of their longstanding and fruitful partnership with the San Sebastian International Film Festival, Europa Distribution gathered 35 distributors for a 3-day long workshop on script analysis in the scope of the festival from 24-28 of September 2023. The main goal of this workshop was to give distributors a greater understanding of the theoretical aspects of script analysis, examining how to implement promotional materials from script stage. The workshop aimed to give distributors more skills to apprehend the value of a film when pre-buying based on the script only.

Day one of the workshop featured a session led by Hanna Lajunen, Head of Distribution at Aurora Studios and Cinemanse,  one of the leading distributors of quality film in Finland. Distributors delved into the key element of each stage such as set-up, catalyst, reversal, midpoint, crisis, climax, suspense, and conflict. This information served to create a mental checklist for distributors to have in mind when reading scripts. Lajunen also showcased other structures and techniques such as the Save the Cat beat sheet, the Fun and Games beat and Hero’s Journey – emphasising the importance of these elements when engaging in prebuys and how this understanding can already lead to high-level short-form content at script stage. For Lajunen, the impact of the workshop went beyond aiding distributors solely at the acquisitions stage, but also in their promotional campaigns. “In this script analysis workshop, I wanted to share some of the best script analysis tools (from my years of script studies) for a film buyer. It was an introduction to script analysis and the different approaches to this important step in the potential acquisition of a film and will hopefully have an effect not only in pre-buying smarter but coming up with better marketing elements and matching the campaign with the audience’s expectations of the film, thus resulting in better word of mouth and box office performance.”

The next day, participants explored the practical applications of script analysis in launching promotional materials at script stage. Lajunen emphasised the benefits of pre-buys, as they can allow distributors to create an even-earlier ‘buzz’ around a film, give them access to films which would be sold out at later stages, and even sometimes allow them to purchase films at more accessible prices. These tools allow distributors to back up their instinct or ‘gut feeling’ with facts and critical analysis – helping to alleviate some of the risk of buying at script stage. Lajunen’s training focused on a high level of practicality; to provide distributors with concrete knowledge which they can immediately put into practice. “I really wanted to pay close attention to the script analysis tools and approaches that work best for buyers specifically. I wanted the audience to leave the workshop with more confidence on their own reading processes and a concrete tool box and checklist for screenplays – and all those elements that make a good script.”

With participants well-versed in the theory and concepts related to script analysis, Nikolaj Mathies, CEO of Vievo Media, took over to discuss the process of turning cinema into short form content. Through his company, he aims to help distributors to “cut through the noise online” and engage audiences with different styles of content, with a particular emphasis on immersing younger demographics. “In collaboration with Hanna, we dedicated time to illustrate how script analysis can seamlessly integrate into a spectrum of marketing activities. We navigated through the significant shifts in online marketing over the past six years, showcasing a variety of non-traditional marketing examples drawn from our own experiences and innovative distributors in the industry,” summarised Mathies. Distributors deepened their knowledge of user generated content in the film universe among Gen Z audiences and how this can require new approaches to promotion with emphasis on aspects such as soundtrack, trends and visual aesthetics. Buying films at script stage can allow distributors to identify even earlier key moments (emotionally, visually and in terms of audience expectation) and thus produce better marketing materials through a more thorough understanding of the script.

On the final day of the workshop,  participants were then divided into working groups to discuss two key questions; first, how the workshop would change their prebuy habits and secondly, were tasked to come up with a ‘wish-list’ of promotional materials from a shoot which could be generated at script stage. After some scintillating discussions held against the back drop of the Basque coastline, the distributors gathered together for the final time back at the Kursaal for a stimulating wrap up session to share their conclusions. All of the participants agreed that the workshop had given them the tools to articulate their feedback in a more professional way, while also providing a more logic-based backing to their instincts; ultimately making the risk of buying at script stage feel a bit less like a gamble – although the film can often differ greatly from the original script. The sharing of experiences, present throughout the workshop, help to shine light on the variety of experiences of distributors, something even coach Nikolaj  Mathies drew value from. “From the presenter’s perspective, the interaction was undoubtedly the highlight of the workshop. My worldview is limited to my own experiences, so it was enlightening to engage with the diverse viewpoints and insights shared by numerous distributors. I hope and wish that the outcome is stronger pan-European collaborations around the promotion of films.”

Another element the distributors worked on was the creation of a wish-list for sales agents and producers, which would provide distributors with key assets needed to create high-quality promotional material.

Throughout the wrap-up session, it became clear that a number of elements were common among all of the discussions, allowing for the consolidation of a clear list of requirements from distributors at script stage. Deeply analysing the wish-list distributors created, a unanimous element was the importance of a set photographer to ensure the creation of a number of good-quality, varied stills, focused on the ‘fun and games’ beat, as well as on the protagonist and in some cases the antagonist. The distributors also highlighted the benefits of creating on-set assets such as set interviews, featurettes and greetings from the talents to the audience, which could then be localised when releasing the film in various territories. Clean, ready-to-use assets were also among one of aspects most emphasised by the participants. Echoing the advice of Mathies earlier in the presentation, distributors called attention to the importance of the first three seconds of a clip; as this is a key moment to ensure engagement from the audiences, it is extremely important not to have logos at this point and thus jeopardise the ever-important audience engagement. In the same vein, the distributors called for the availability of high-quality clips, orientated around the main beats of the script, so that they may be used for User-Generated Content in online spaces. Once again considering the importance of online, user-generated content, the participants also stressed the importance of ensuring the rights to all music used in the film are available and of having the soundtrack of the film at script stage, to allow distributors to make a playlist. The discussions also illustrated some best practices distributors could employ to further aid their release strategies. These largely focused on high levels of communication and interaction with other players in the film sector. This included getting in contact with distributors to exchange and share materials, connecting early on marketing strategies and timelines with sales agents, and working closely with producers to ensure all needs are understood.

Undoubtedly, the workshop truly immersed participants in the realm of script analysis, providing them with important skills and knowledge to aid them with pre-buys, while also illustrating the importance of considering promotional materials already at script stage. The level of interest and engagement was palpable through the level of vocal participation among distributors throughout the workshop. “I was thrilled about how interactive the sessions we had were and how actively the participants shared their experiences and own methods for pre-buys. I believe participants gained more confidence around script analysis and their pre-buys – and also understanding on how pre-buys vary across the world and what different methods and tools their fellow buyers prefer. I couldn’t be happier about how much interaction there was in all three sessions!” echoed Lajunen.

The unique cross-over of script analysis and marketing techniques created by Lajunen and Mathies created a concrete wish-list for distributors to use at script-stage in order to ensure high quality promotional materials. This desire to work with sales agents and producers early on in the film making process echoes the outcome of Europa Distribution’s workshop with the Venice Production Bridge in early September, where the aspiration for a toolkit to be shared with producers was also clear. Ultimately, it is this initiation of dialogue between sales agents, producers and distributors which will pave the way for better promotional assets and campaigns, therefore providing a greater impact for films overall.