Scott Walker: 30 Century Man: How to work the audience
In his latest case study of how movies use the internet, Mike Jones looks at how old school meets new tech to market a music doc.
This is part of a series of articles on FilmInFocus in which Mike Jones examines the role played by the internet in both film production (on Medicine for Melancholy and Taking Woodstock) and film promotion (Bottle Shock, Fast & Furious, Milk and Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.)
When documentary filmmaker Stephen Kijack started off making Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, he had little money, but a fascination with his subject and lots of time. But that time (and the internet) helped him discover that he was not the only one who appreciated this influential yet obscure musician who has influenced David Bowie, Radiohead, and Sting.
Even Beastie Boy Adam Yauch is a fan enlisting his distribution company, Oscilloscope Laboratories, to release the film.
"Because production expanded through a couple of years there was a lot of downtime," says Kijack "I started building a MySpace page fanbase by literally staying up nights, looking for Scott Walker fans and adding them as friends." Kijack kept his expectations in check, but as his fanbase grew during shooting, he knew he was on to something. He soon realized that fans of Scott Walker are hardcore and active.
"I always assumed the film would have a limited audience because of who Scott Walker is," he says "Sometimes I would think I was an idiot staying up late at night attaching people one by one as fans of my movie. But man, it worked. We might have 5000 friends on MySpace and for a little film that's pretty significant because it started great word-of-mouth."
With the doc finished and a release date set, Kijack was faced with a universal problem for independent film, that is getting the word out with little money. Before the web, print advertising in free weeklies would have been the choice to hit Kijack's music-snob demographic. Yet even something that bare-boned would have cost him thousands of dollars.
Using the internet, Kijack tapped into his fan group with not only screening information, but also with requests for help. “I put a call out to people that if they wanted to see the film to write me," he says. "Tell me where the cool cinemas are or if there's a cool bookstore or record store where we could promote. Man, I got a ton of emails."
Kijack used new technology to launch an old-school, grassroots campaign in which he recruited people to form "street teams". "I would find twenty-something hotshots in each city who were always super gung-ho and would do anything I ask," says Kijack, "All for a free ticket and a poster. They'd run around putting up posters and handing postcards out at gigs and blogging and putting out their own email blasts. They felt as if they were part of a team. It really helped, particularly in a city like LA where you can't be everywhere at once."
But his requests to fans weren’t only to put up posters or set out fliers. Kijack also culled a valuable database of names from people who work at radio stations, records stores, and other local tastemakers.
"We were lucky in that we had old school and new school working at the same time,” remarks Kijack. “I had a great publicist, Mickey Cottrell. Without him I wouldn't have had a feature in the LA Times or great reviews from top critics." As his publicist worked the phones, Kijack worked the blogs. "Kevin Bronson, for example, used to be at the LA Times, but now runs a blog called buzzbandsla.com," says Kijack. "It's probably read more by the people we want to hit than the LA Times. One little private screening at Kevin's house for 15 tastemakers and a blast on his blog. Whammo! A lot more people came."
Such internet grassroots ultimately paid off. Kijack extended his runs in Austin and Los Angeles and continues to add play dates. "It's just figuring out how to effectively use these different platforms," says Kijack "I'm afraid now with Facebook that people will just get sick of me and all my stupid emails. Do I do anything else but blab about Scott Walker? No, I don't."
Mike Jones is a screenwriter and journalist based in Los Angeles. He’s held staff positions at Filmmaker Magazine, indieWIRE, Variety and currently blogs on the film festival beat at The Circuit. He's written scripts for Columbia, HBO, MGM/UA, among others. Recently The Gotham Group optioned his adaptation of The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break.