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The NYU Cinema Research Institute brings together innovators in film and media finance, production, marketing, and distribution to imagine and realize a new future for artist-entrepreneurs. 

Motivation and Transparency


Motivation and Transparency

Michael Gottwald, Carl Kriss & Josh Penn


In our previous post, “Data and Metrics in Film,” we discussed how filmmakers could gain a greater understanding of how to market their film by applying the same data and metrics methods commonly used by political campaigns. However, in order to gather information from audiences, people have to be motivated to participate in a campaign first. In this post we will look at how the Obama campaign used transparency to motivate people to participate in its campaign and compare how transparency in film can empower fans to get more involved in the distribution process. In both the 2008 and 2012 election, the Obama campaign pioneered efforts to be transparent about process and goals from the top down. Early in the 2012 election, Jim Messina shared the campaign’s strategy for winning the election in the video, "Paths to 270 Electoral Votes." Here is the link.

In the video, Messina uses 6 different electoral maps to make the campaign’s intended path to victory in battleground states completely transparent. Messina then makes a clear and direct ask for supporters to get involved. “We fund this campaign in contributions of three dollars or 5 dollars or whatever you can do to help us expand the map, put people on the ground to build a real grassroots campaign that is going to be the difference between winning and losing.” First, Messina makes the campaign strategy easy for supporters to understand then he provides clear direction for how they can get involved. The video empowers supporters to become active participants in the campaign by making them feel like they are an integral part of its success.

Similar to the Obama campaign, filmmakers are pioneering new efforts to make the goals and process for distribution transparent so fans can get more involved. For example, the filmmakers of the romantic comedy Sleepwalk With Me released a list of targeted IFC movie theaters that they wanted the film to play in, thereby being entirely upfront with their distribution goals for the film. With these targeted venues totally public, they enlisted fans to call, tweet or facebook message to request a screening of the film in the theater in their neighborhood. The website reads, “If your town isn’t on the list…you don’t have to take that lying down. Below is a list of theaters that run indie films, with their phone numbers, email addresses, and twitter handles. Call them, email them, tweet at them with the hashtag #BringSleepwalk.” Similar to how Messina empowered supporters by illustrating which battleground states they need support from volunteers to win, the filmmakers of Sleepwalk With Me were 100% transparent about their goal to have the film screen in targeted movie theaters. Also like Messina, the filmmakers make a direct ask for fans to get involved by calling, facebook messaging or tweeting their local movie theaters. Sleepwalk With Me was able to transform their fans from being passive consumers of the film to active distributors by being transparent about their goals and making a direct ask to their audience.

Whether a campaign is for a political candidate or to distribute a film, being transparent about strategy and goals is the gateway for making people feel empowered. What other parts of the filmmaking process can be made transparent to empower more fans? This will be a theme we explore in future posts.

-Josh, Michael and Carl