director/screenwriter/producer

 

One of many lessons that I learnt on Blind Flight was how fitful the marketing of a film can be. Without somebody overseeing and driving a film's marketing on a consistent, long-term basis it can all too easily get lost in the cracks of distribution as it is passed from distributors to sub-distributors in the differing markets.

This kind of driver to a film's successful distribution is even more important in an age of 'multi-platforming', fragmenting audiences and 'long tail' distribution which the internet has brought.

The development of digital technology and the internet offer filmmakers the potential to maintain and develop a much more organic link between a concept and its final audiences and to play a greater role in that of the 'driver' - to the benefit not just of the originating filmmakers' creative concerns but also to a film's development of its audiences, as many artists in the music business are discovering.

For a current project of mine Out Of The Dark I've done some research work on its market potential which has resulted in some interesting discoveries about changes in the marketplace, changes which don't seem to have been properly recognised yet.



A Film Project and its marketability - OUT OF THE DARK



OUTLINE


FILM STORYLINE

(see also Screenplay Samples)

OVERVIEW: The Film and its Marketability
THE FILM'S AUDIENCES & MARKETS
MARKETING THE FILM
DATA

 

OUTLINE:

a 90-100 minute lower-budget feature film project

Linda Caine, 35, seems to have everything - beauty, artistic talent, a vivacious personality, a happy family, financial security, a wonderful home and her Baptist faith. So why is she suddenly invaded by a feeling of such evil that she must kill herself?

Haunted by terrifying spectres who stalk her waking and her sleeping, and driven to the edge of suicide, she seeks help from Jungian psychotherapist Dr Robin Royston. Royston risks his career to help Linda in the battle to uncover these demons and to save her life.

'Out Of The Dark' is both a gripping 'possession' story, a psychological detective thriller and a transcendental love story. It is also a moving exploration of faith, reason and humanity in the face of the dark side of human nature.

The film is based on the true-story book Out Of The Dark by Caine and Royston published by Transworld in 2003. The book remains a word-of-mouth UK bestseller having sold over 245,000 copies in the UK to date and still selling.

With echoes of classic adult horror movies like Kubrick's The Shining, Hitchcock's Psycho, Polanski's Repulsion and Roeg's Don't Look Now the film will appeal to psychological thriller and drama film audiences, with strong appeal to women of all ages and the 35+.

It will have a strong international market, with particular appeal in faith-interested territories such as the USA, South America, Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe, and a long life in the home entertainments sectors. Forward-thinking use of the internet will be used promote the film and to cultivate its numerous potential niche audiences.

Its stunning locations in the lush English countryside and majestic African bush and its rich, atmospheric soundtrack - including rock, gospel, classical and African music and dramatic effects - will heighten the film's cinematic power and suspense and enhance its marketability.

Its two powerful lead roles could attract international recognised actors. Its distinctive, contemporary vision should provide it with launch potential at premier world film festivals, and critical and word-of-mouth recommendation for box office and other markets success.

With limited UK exteriors and cast - and production potential in many advantageous countries - the film will be low-budget: £2-4 million depending on casting and availability of finance.

The film is to be written and directed by John Furse, writer/director of the critically acclaimed low-budget feature 'Blind Flight', released in 2004, which was based on the No 1 best-selling true story of Beirut hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy.

Starring Ian Hart and Linus Roache 'Blind Flight' received numerous international festival invitations and nominations including Best Film, Best Narrative Feature Film, Best First/Second Time Director, Best New Filmmaker, Best Music and Best Actor at the London and TriBeCa (New York) Film Festivals and the Irish, Scottish BAFTA and British Independent Film Awards.

It received the 3rd highest popular vote of 74 entries at the Sydney Film Festival 2004. Ian Hart won Best Actor Award at the USA's prestigious TriBeCa Film Festival for his role as Keenan.


FILM STORYLINE

Out Of The Dark

It is 1989 and LINDA CAINE, 35, seems to have everything - an Audrey Hepburn-ish beauty and mystique, artistic talent, a loving family, financial security and a perfect home in the idyllic English countryside. A 'born again' Baptist - she was brought up a Christian in Zimbabwe - her vivacious personality makes her a popular local figure.

Suddenly she starts to have flashes and hallucinations of suffocation and of being stalked by AN INVISIBLE STRANGER. She can't sleep, has panic attacks and feels so incorrigibly evil that she has no alternative but to eradicate herself. After a frightening experience with BAPTIST FRIENDS, who are convinced that she's possessed by Satan, she sets out to kill herself. A dramatic last minute intervention forestalls this.

Disturbed by her Baptist friends' behaviour she refuses to seek help from a Christian source and commits herself to the care of DR ROBIN ROYSTON, 45, a charismatic, unconventional Jungian psychotherapist. His treatment involves him exploring clues in her dreams and memories to uncover her condition's origins and their hold over her. He promises a fearful LINDA that he'll never allow her to be institutionalised or medicated against her will.

Now an inmate at Ticehurst Mental Hospital, an imposing Regency country mansion set in lush grounds and magical woods, LINDA commences her treatment with ROYSTON. Still pursued by nightmares, flashes and paranoid visions of THE DARK STRANGER she mutilates herself and bolts from the hospital like a woman possessed. As ROYSTON probes LINDA's psyche her disturbed and disturbing behaviour convinces him that she's suffering from the buried memory of some terrible trauma, probably sexual. His discovery of three missing years in her childhood memories, when she and her sister lived with their Dad after their Mum had abandoned the family, amplifies ROYSTON's suspicions. Could her Dad, of whom she speaks so glowingly, be the culprit?

His team - the spiky, irreverent BARRY, outwardly correct MARY and novice nurse ANN - know that ROYSTON is entering a minefield. In the US there are major lawsuits by patients against their therapists for supposedly implanting such 'false memories'. But ROYSTON, confident in his methodology, and after many tense sessions involving vivid flashbacks, wrong suspects and dramatic episodes, appears to discover LINDA's abuser. She seems free at last.

Yet, after a brief honeymoon period back at home, her condition worsens. Her FELLOW BAPTISTS urge her to see a Christian healer. But she insists on returning to a dismayed ROYSTON. As he closes in on the dark secret her mind is so reluctant to give up her behaviour becomes increasingly extreme. He in turn adopts increasingly maverick methods to save her life, at the risk of his entire career. In a gripping and moving denouement (and arguably unique in cinema and TV psychological drama since Freud's influence) her final, appalling revelation, rather than being cathartic, places her life in even greater peril.

Realising that LINDA's faith is essential to her completing the healing process ROYSTON nobly takes his biggest gamble. Rather than allow her to be institutionalised he keeps his promise to LINDA and encourages her instead to go to the Christian healer - otherwise both know that she will die. For each it's the ultimate test of faith. For him in his tenets of empowerment and freedom. For her in her God. And, for both, of their faith in each other.


OVERVIEW: The Film and its Marketability

The box office success of low-budget independent productions ('Brokeback Mountain', 'Thank You And Good Night') which dominated the 2006 Oscars, following previous 'indie' successes like 'Lost In Translation' and 'Sideways', have confirmed a strong, developing market for human interest low-budget films. Movies like 'Brokeback Mountain' and market data show that women are a vital target audience and the over-35's are a major, growing, under-exploited demographic. As cinemagoers and DVD/video consumers they commit to such films in very large numbers.

Strong, character-driven stories, rather than just star-driven vehicles, are in demand, with true stories continuing to have a premium. The success of big-budget mainstream films like 'The Passion Of The Christ' and 'The Chronicles Of Narnia' has also evidenced a demand for faith-themed films in the current climate. The film industry has exciting new horizons.

The New Technologies revolution, with low-cost digital production and internet promotion and distribution, is also changing the face of international film making and marketing.

As has happened with the music business the traditional structures of the film and TV industries, long dominated by Hollywood and terrestrial broadcasters, are in flux as audiences diversify in a multi-media environment. However cinema distribution, profitable but also unpredictable, still provides a potent promotional vehicle for a market for films increasingly dominated by home entertainments. For the next 5 years this market will continue to be mainly in packaged media (DVD's), with broadband download/High Definition (HD) media becoming ascendant thereafter.

The opportunities now exist for independent producers to make profitable films for a multi-media marketplace with direct marketability to niche audiences, cross-promotion among niches, electronic 'word-of-mouth' proliferation and long market-life provided by the internet.

OUT OF THE DARK, a psychological thriller about a psychiatrist who risks his career to save the life of a beautiful 'born again' Christian woman bent on suicide, has audience appeal across key genres (Drama, Thriller, Romance).

Based on a best-selling true-story book with UK book sales to date of almost 250,000, including a substantial womens' readership, the story has proved its public appeal.

Its draft screenplay's quality - with its compelling true story and two powerful lead roles - has established the project's potential to attract international stars.

The film's faith theme will add to its considerable box office and home entertainments market potential in key faith-oriented territories such as the USA, South America,Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe.

With its small cast and limited locations the film will be an independent low-budget film with considerable crossover potential between niche markets (women, the over-35's, the cross generational 18+ 'indie' sector, the faith-interested).

The project has attracted a highly talented and experienced team, including leading international casting director Celestia Fox, who have established track records in top-quality international film production.


THE FILM'S AUDIENCES & MARKETS

With $34.4 billion revenues the USA has the biggest share of the global filmed entertainments market. The UK has the third largest share ($6.6 billion) after Japan (see Data).

Current UK Film Council research confirms that women are a vital part of the audience market for films, sharing general box office markets 50/50 with men in the UK. Thrillers (48%) and Dramas (23%) are the most popular genres.

Contrary to common assumptions, over-35 audiences are also now a major market.

  Age 4-14 Age 15-24 Age 25-34 Age 35+
         
Male % 11 12 12 15
Female % 12 11 9 18
Total % 23 23 21 33

(Source: Cinema Advertising Association/UK Film Council)

The significance of the over-35's is evident in data for the recent box office success of quality, human interest movies like 'Brokeback Mountain' and 'The Constant Gardener' (and big-budget mainstreamers like 'The Da Vinci Code'). This is centrally founded on these movies' ability to attract the over-35's and particularly women (see Data).

The over-35's are well-informed, settled and monied. And growing in number as life-spans extend. Quality movies are a big draw for them. When they do commit to a film, they can do so in very large numbers, whether as cineamagoers or as consumers of DVD/videos.

This applies not only to these successful low/medium-budget films but also to low-budget (under £5 million) 'indie' movies like 'Lost In Translation' and 'Sideways' from the USA and 'Girl With A Pearl Earring', 'Ladies In Lavender' and 'The Magdalene Sisters' from the UK. These were highly successful at cinemas - they grossed $18-45 million globally - with as much again, often a lot more, in additional DVD/video rentals and sales (see Data).

But the over-35's are far more selective, and more so as they get older, than the younger groups, cinemagoing more rarely and consuming DVD/videos less (see Data). They are clearly an expanding but under-exploited market and the success of these kinds of films in the USA and other key territories points to this being an international phenomenon

Other industry sectors - Marks and Spencers in fashion retailing and the over-50's readership magazine Saga in publishing - have profited from their moves into older markets. The ailing music business is evidencing data that shows the increasing importance of these older, piracy-resistant markets (see Data). But the film and TV industries, immured in the cultivation of youth markets since the Sixties, have as yet failed to properly adjust to the new realities and their great potential. Our project OUT OF THE DARK doesn't make the same mistake.

OUT OF THE DARK will be a film which crosses popular genres (Drama, Thriller, Romance). Its subject matter and themes will be highly marketable across the following target demographics:

1. Women over-18
2. Men and Women over-35
3. 'Indie' (independent, non-studio film) audiences over-18
4. Faith-oriented/'spiritual' cinema audiences over-18

MARKETING THE FILM

New Media, New Marketing, Long Revenue Life

The launch of the film at premier international film festivals like Cannes, Venice and Toronto and its cinema exploitation will be followed by rapid DVD distribution of the film to maximise the promotional value, critical attention and word-of-mouth 'buzz' achieved from its cinema opening. Whilst box office success can be profitable, DVD sales now outstrip cinema revenues and DVD will be a particularly strong market for a film like OUT OF THE DARK (see Data, page 8).

Exploitation of the enormous new promotional opportunities afforded by the internet will be actively pursued. This will range from the use of film clips as broadband/YouTube/mobile 'virals' and the running of an online diary/newscast/blog of the film's production for cultivation of pre-launch interest, to using big-footprint vehicles like Google and key sites like handbag.com and I-village (for women, the over-35's etc) for cross-promotion in niche markets. Niche 1-million reader periodicals like Saga, neglected by the film business, will be similarly cultivated.

The internet's marketing drive will be maintained over subsequent years to maximise the 'long tail' (long life) and proliferation of electronic word-of-mouth that broadband now affords a film, whether on DVD over the next 5+ years and as a download to hi-quality High Definition (HD) home screens as HD media take an increasingly large market share over the next 10 years.

As an independent film project with an unusually forward-looking marketing vision OUT OF THE DARK is being advised by UK new technologies consultants Understanding & Solutions Ltd (U & S). With almost 20 years experience U & S are leading research specialists in digital and new media developments and content distribution. Their clients include Hollywood majors and independents, and top UK broadcasters, telecoms, corporate and financial institutions.

Quality Production, Niche Marketing

The film, with its exploration of headline-making subject matter (self-harming, child abuse, 'buried memory'), will be promotable to large niche interest groups and communities (eg. mental health, psychotherapy, religion) on the internet. In the UK alone there are, for instance, 250,000 registered psychotherapists with a constituency of 6 million sufferers of depressive disorders, and vast numbers in addition in the USA and the rest of the world.

At a time of widespread religious questioning the film's exploration of faith and psychology also has large communities globally to target through the new media, with key targetable markets in the USA, South America and Catholic countries (see Data 6).

The film could enjoy both box office success and considerable profitability in the DVD market. The audiences for cinematic films like OUT OF THE DARK place a premium on picture-and-sound quality and are resistant to piracy, both for quality and habit reasons. The high quality of DVD, with attractive 'bonuses' and packaging, and value as a 'collectible' and gift - half the DVD market is in gifts - will provide the film with a lucrative market (see Data 6 & 8).

It will enjoy a long revenue life by its further exploitation in the emerging HD media in later years as the ageing, leisured and monied post-War Baby Boomers, their middle-aged children and 35+ grandchildren expand the market for quality filmed entertainment.


DATA

Samples of UK and USA low-budget (under £5 million) independent films sharing some of the characteristics of OUT OF THE DARK in terms of genres, themes, realisation, scale, human interest, female-orientation, quality, and particularly in types of audience (eg. 'The Magdalene Sisters' grossed EU 3.2 million at the box office in Italy, a largely Catholic country):

UK low-budget independent film samples (2005)

The Magdalene Sisters (2002) - modern, true-story drama of the ordeal of young nuns at the hands of their punitive sister superiors in an Irish Catholic corrective asylum.
UK box office: £2.1 million. US box office: $4.9 million. Global box office: $20.6 million
UK DVD/video rentals: 370,000 UK DVD/video sales: 114,000

Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) - love story of 17th Century Dutch master painter Vermeer's obsession with a young sitter.
UK box office: £3.2 million. US box office: $11.6 million. Global box office: $35.4 million
UK DVD/video rentals; 276,000 units. UK DVD/video sales: 280,000 units.

Ladies in Lavender (2004) - modern love story of two middle-aged village spinsters who fall for a young stranger.
UK box office: £3.2 million. US box office: $6.7 million. Global box office: $18.5 million
UK DVD/video rentals: 270,000 units. UK DVD/video sales: 760,000 units.
* UK DVD/video rentals = £3 per unit avg. UK DVD/video sales = £8-10 per unit avg. *

(Sources: Internet Movie Database and UK Film Council)

USA low-budget independent film samples (2004)

You Can Count on Me (2001) - modern drama about a small-town single mother's turmoil after her younger brother's return into her life.
US box office: $9.8 million. UK box office: £173,469 Global box office: $ tbc
US DVD/video rentals and sales: $13.6 million.*

Boys Don't Cry (2000) - modern small-town drama about a transgender teenager whose female identity is uncovered.
US box office: $11.5 million. UK box office: £386,764 Global box office: $ tbc
US DVD/video rentals and sales: $17.2 million.*

Lost In Translation (2003) - jaded middle-aged actor's brief, platonic relationship with a young newly-wed in a Tokyo hotel.
US box office: $44.5 million. UK box office: £9.8 million Global box office: $ tbc
US DVD/video rentals and sales: $29.7 million.*

* These figures exclude further 'long tail' DVD/video revenues since then. *

NB: The US cinema box office market accounted for 38% of the global box office (2004)

(Sources: Internet Movie Database and UK Film Council)


UK Audiences (2005)

The older cinemagoing audience has grown over the last 10 years. They are more likely to be influenced by media reviews.

* In 2005 sampled over-45's listed their favourite leisure activities as:
1) Eating out: 74% 2) Watching DVD's/videos at home: 53% 3) Going to the theatre: 46% 4) Cinemagoing: 42%

* The biggest single influence in choice of film is:
1) Recommendation of a friend,'word-of-mouth': 47% 2) Trailers: 37% 3) Media reviews: 36% 4) Media ads: 34%

* 59% say that reading the book of a film would make them more likely to go and see the film at the cinema (69% of heavy cinema goers).

Year 2005 Age 7-14 Age 15-24 Age 25-34 Age 35+
         
Go to the cinema at least once per month (pop. %) 36% 47% 36% 16%
         

(Source: Cinema Advertising Association CAVIAR Audience Research/UK Film Council)

 

US/UK Box Office Audience Builds

Samples of US/UK audience builds on low-budget films following launch before and/or without major international awards (Oscars, BAFTA's) nominations but after favourable reviews.

Lost In Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring had A-list 'name' actors (Colin Firth, Scarlett Johanssen) who can 'open' a film. Ladies in Lavender had 'marquee' names (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith) with a quality public profile. The Magdalene Sisters had a cast of unknowns but appeal among faith-interested audiences.

All had modest first week openings. But the box office figures point to how favourable critical reception with follow-through promotion and, above all, good word-of-mouth on their quality - rather than just the actors' names - were central to the films' ultimate success.

  Lost in
Translation
Girl With A
Pearl Earring
Ladies In Lavender The Magdalene
Sisters
  (US release) (UK release) (UK release) (US release)
 
Week 1
$ 925,000
£ 385,000
£ 423,000
$ 84,000
Week 2
$ 3,900,000
£ 1,000,000
£ 1,200,000
$ 556,000
Week 3
$ 8,600,000
£ 1,600,000
£ 1,900,000
$ 814,000
Week 4
$ 14,000,000
£ 2,300,000
$ 1,200,000
 
Gross (US)
$ 44,500,000
$ 4,900,000
Gross (UK)
£ 3,200,000
£ 3,200,000
Global ($)
tbc
$ 35,400,000
$ 18,500,000
$ 20,600,000

(Source: Internet Movie Database )

Women and over-35 Audiences

Brokeback Mountain (2005) - a low-key gay love story between two cowboys out on the range - is another example of the positive trend is audience potential for human interest films made for a low budget ($12 million dollars) by Hollywood standards. Women audiences and the over-35's were central to the success of 'Brokeback Mountain'.

    Uk audience breakdowns (2005-6)
Title Primary Genre Male Female Age 35+
         
Brokeback Mountain Drama 34% 66% 60%
Memoirs Of A Geisha Drama 28% 72% 53%
The Da Vinci Code Thriller 51% 49% 47%
Pride and Prejudice Drama 29% 70% 69%
The Constant Gardener Thriller 31% 69% 75%

 

Genre Uk box office
   
Thriller 48.1%
Drama 23.5%
Action 14.9%
Comedy 10.3%

(Sources: Nielsen EDI/UK Film Council)

Global Filmed Entertainment Markets (2005)

The figures include cinema, DVD/video rentals and sales, online and streaming:

1. USA: $34.4 billion
2. Japan: $7.7 billion
3. UK: $6.6 billion * The UK has 8% of total global market *
4. Germany: $3.1 billion
5. France: $2.8 billion

(PriceWaterhouse Coopers Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2006-2010)


UK DVD/video rentals and sales (2005)

Year Videos (£m) DVD (£m) Total market (£m)
       
2001 1,292 712 2,004
2003 728 2,143 2,871
2005 (est) 148 3,052 3,200

(Source: Mintel)

 

NB. In 2005 gross revenues worldwide from DVD sales and rentals overtook those of theatrical revenues and are now exceeding them by 10%.

(Source: Screen Finance)

UK Music CD Album Spend by Age Group

Age 2001 2005
     
19-29 41% 31%
30-39 22% 23%
40+ 37% 46%

(Source: TNS 'Audio Visual Trak Survey')