Brown Girl Begins
An Exclusive with Director Sharon Lewis
Reelworld: How did you come up with the marketing plan you executed for "Brown Girl Begins"? Did you work with others to create your plan or did you do this on your own?
S.L: I worked with a team; I had my producer, who was also someone who had experience distributing low budget films, and through a work experience program I had two young people work with me who were fantastic because they were two young black women which was the demographic I was targeting. I wanted to use social media and not conventional marketing as the demographic of young black women aren't watching TV or reading traditional print -neither of which we could afford anyway.
Reelworld: What did you feel was the most effective in your plan -what worked and what didn't work?
S.L: We made sure that we gathered social media and marketing assets by targeting our indiegogo campaign to have specific marketing messages, so that we didn't just garner financial support but created a community of supporters that would spread the word when the film came out.
We knew from the beginning that yes we had “universal themes” of empowerment, class segregation, coming of age, a love story, and that this film was made by and for black women, afropunks, and lovers of black art. We discovered that our assumptions about who would be interested in this film were true when we did the crowdfunding to raise extra funds for production. We made sure that we had 30% of our funding in place before we even launched our Indiegogo campaign, as Indiegogo statistics show that people tend to join a campaign when they see that it has confidently surpassed that point. In order to get my arts council funding I had to raise a certain amount that I had put in the budget. We did it and surpassed our goal by 167%.
Reelworld: What did your marketing plan cost?
S.L: We did a tour across Canada and we did several special presentations, and a gala to promote the film; but in terms of pure marketing approximately $20,000.
Reelworld: Was the plan different on each platform?
S.L: From the theatrical screening, to the Air Canada and Showtime -etc we only did digital marketing and social media. We didn't market the Air Canada screenings, it didn't make sense as we wouldn't know when the flights are etc. however for TMN, and HBO, we used social media. Our hardest pushes in marketing were for when we would get the box office -so our theatrical screenings- and it was all digital.
There is a theme here and it’s “luck”. Lucky that we were able to access a free digital marketing course put on by Annelise Larson and funded by Telefilm Canada (our film was shot in Canada); but the principles remain the same, which is to find the niche market that we want to see our film, and target them. We aren’t a studio film, we aren’t even an indie film with Hollywood players, we are an artsy dystopian film shot on a shoestring budget. So we don’t have the ability to compete with a 30 million dollar tentpole marketing budget and that’s okay, we shouldn’t! Right from the beginning we began to contact museums, community groups, schools, black sci-fi groups, black feminist sci-fi groups and black art organizations, knowing that they would want to dive into a world that takes them on this journey of Caribbean spirits, young love, and a wicked drug lord.
We took the basic principles of the digital marketing course which were fantastic exercises, and drilled down and got as specific as possible about our audience. It is the first Caribbean Canadian Sci-Fi Feature Film, with all its firsts: first time feature film director who is Caribbean-Canadian, Women of Colour and People of Colour, the cast is mostly black or POC. We thought of the digital context as much as possible. We re-examined the themes of our film, and who we were engaging with on social media.
What has been awesome about social media is that it has allowed indie content creators to take on a lot of the marketing themselves without the expense of TV ads etc… Of course the downside, is trying to find a voice in the din of indie filmmakers trying to find the spotlight. I believe when we made this film that we had something to say and so we have been relentless in trying to find those who would like to hear our story. We have also engaged our cast who have their own followers. I am not saying I cast the film based on people’s social media activism, BUT, it was a positive influence when thinking about casting them as I knew they themselves would help promote the film. There are a bunch of tools out there, but we found this one the most helpful.
We used Google Trends tool (https://www.google.ca/trends/) and discovered that Black Films in the search had a high interest in Nigeria. We discovered that the term afropunk resonated with a better return than black science fiction for the audiences that we wanted to target. All of these helped us move forward with our marketing plans.