Twitter and the Independent Filmmaker

Filmmakers, how many times have you either been asked or asked yourself this question: do I need to move to Los Angeles (or New York etc.)?  My smart ass response is always “No, there are already too many people here.”  There are lots of great reasons for a filmmaker to live in L.A., but the reason I would answer “yes” is that in order to be able to fully accomplish your filmmaking goals you will need to know the right people.  People with special skills, people that can teach you, people that can give you support or even money, or people that can get you in touch with these people.  The saying “it’s all who you know” is never more true than in the business of making a film, but it is getting easier every day to know the right people without committing to a life of traffic, earthquakes and punching paparazzi.

We were days away from our world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival when I started using Twitter.  My brother-in-law suggested that it might be helpful in getting the word out about our screening.   The only advice he gave me was that everyone in the world could read it, so not to write anything I didn’t want everyone to be able to see.   I started my account and began sending out short messages into the void of cyberspace, not sure if anyone was reading them.   Actually, pretty sure no one was reading them.  I made a few contacts with other filmmakers that were going to be in the festival, but nothing significant, and at the end of the day I wasn’t really sure it was worth the effort.

I stuck with it.  At first following anyone and everyone but slowly starting to get a sense of those out there that I found interesting, as well as those interested in what we were doing.  It took a long time and a lot of feeling around in the dark, but eventually I could see a community taking shape.  I found a tremendous amount of filmmakers and film supporters that were engaged in an open forum discussion addressing all the issues I had been dealing with practically alone.   What at first I thought was just a platform to promote the film turned out to be something much more valuable.  This was social networking at it purest.

Yet my experience on Twitter has not just been confined to a computer interface.  Two of our non-festival screenings (Film Courage Interactive in Los Angeles and The Pretentious Film Society in Annapolis) would not have occurred had I not started that account.  Three of our most positive reviews came from bloggers (Film Snobbery, Movie Cynics, and Rogue Cinema) that I met or read about from other filmmakers.  Plus, there all the great filmmakers I have had the privilege to meet in person, see their films and pick their brains.

Although there are folks out there that are much better adept at Twitter (looking at you @kingisafink) I thought I would share some tidbits of advice.  Take ’em or leave ’em.

1. Be interesting –  This isn’t easy.  Try and share thoughts, ideas and information that are pertinent to the people following you.  Converse with people, don’t just promote.  In fact, your best promotion is to make sure people want to read your tweets so try and make each one count.  Your comments will be available for anyone to read, but you don’t want to be so cautious that you become bland. Your personality must come through.  My personal guideline is never make statements unrelated to our film or the film industry.  Everything within that realm is fair game.  Find your voice and stick to it, be respectful, and if you can, be very fucking funny.

2. Don’t feel like you have to follow everyone –  Try to follow people that you would want to talk to in real life.  There are thousands of filmmakers and film writers out there and they alone will give you more tweets than you can keep up with.  If someone follows you it is a courtesy to follow them back, but not mandatory.  If they seem like someone you are interested in knowing more about or if you think they may be a fan follow back for sure, if their description seems like an odd fit, it probably is, don’t fill your feed with stuff you won’t read.

3. Don’t feel like you need everyone to follow you – Think quality over quantity.  Don’t waste time chasing new followers.  If you follow advice #1 and are patient they will come to you.  Having five million followers is meaningless if they don’t care about what you tweet or pay to see your movie.  [Editor’s Note: weak Ashton Kutcher joke was removed here.]

3. Engage and Re-Tweet – I am shy in real life.  I hate talking to people I don’t know.  Twitter makes it easy.  If someone says something you find interesting or have a comment about, let them know, or share it by re-tweeting it. Re-tweeting is simply re-posting what another user has already written.  When you re-tweet, try and add your own thoughts, always have a voice associated with anything you send out.  Be gracious when someone re-tweets your tweet, they are helping you by getting your name out there to their followers, so thank them.

4. Do not use Twitter.com – There are many wonderful and free desktop applications you can download (I use tweetdeck) that allow you keep different columns, which you can tailor to meet your needs.  For instance, my first column is all tweets from my list of film people am most interested in.  The next are my “mentions” – every tweet where my user name gets mentioned.  You can also set up columns for particular searches or “hash tags.” (hash tags are a way of marking certain topics  with a “#” sign.  For instance, two good ones to keep an eye on are #scriptchat and #infdist.)  Do whatever you can to help manage the time you spend on Twitter, because once you get sucked in it can quickly take over.  I’ve check twitter 50 time writing this.

5. Have only one account – I have two.  One for the film and one for me.  One withers and the other thrives.  Sometimes I get them mixed up.  If I could do it over I would have stuck to a personal account.  More flexibility, more personal and it still could be used to promote the film.  Again, make life easy for yourself.

I recently had lunch with an old friend that had just finished principle photography on his first feature film.  I shared with him my Twitter experiences and he was interested but unconvinced.  His argument is that filmmakers need to focus on making the film, which as anyone knows takes a tremendous amount of work to accomplish, and much more energy, insight, talent and luck to do well.  I can’t really argue with him, but I can say that if you manage your time and have a smart plan of attack, the effort you put into your Twitter account will become a tremendous asset, and you just might make a few friends along the way.

You can follow my tweets @waterholemovie.  Do it now, because regardless of what I wrote above,  I really want over 1000 followers.

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5 Comments

Filed under Film Marketing, Filmmakers, Filmmaking, Independent Film, Social Networking

5 responses to “Twitter and the Independent Filmmaker

  1. Good advice Nathan and I already follow you so I can’t help on the count front. 🙂

  2. wonderful post, I will for sure share(-:

  3. Aw, thanks for the mention, Nate. We especially like the part where you talk about not being bland. It took us a while to strike the perfect cord between politeness and Kingisafinky-ness, and we clearly remember you as being one of the first people to get our unique brand of humor. Which made us do it again. And again. And again. The world only has you to thank.

  4. I have made very similar experiences with Twitter. Yes, it is a huge timesink, if you don’t pay attention, but yes, it certainly helps a lot in making the film as well.
    I also agree with your advice, especially the one of being interesting and not just promotional. If you want to build a community, you have to give something. When people get a sense of overweighing self-promotion, they won’t stay – can’t blame them.
    If they stay, however, it can be very rewarding – in terms of feedback, information, connections and fun.

  5. Kirsten Hillhouse

    I loved your advice on film-making and using Twitter. In my Online Media class we have talked about the benefits of using Twitter. It is a great social network to share and gather information. I agreed that you have to be interesting so that other people will find your tweets beneficial. Twitter is a great network for feedback and positive promotion.

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