The Secrets of the $300 Million Independent Film

by | January 11, 2011 | Case Studies, Distribution, DIY, Marketing, Strategy, Tips

During the Melbourne Think Outside the Box Office Workshop last year, I had the pleasure to meet Julie Eckersley who told me that she had written her master’s thesis on the runaway success of the independent film “The Secret”. She generously offered to share her findings with my readers. While much of the success of The Secret is unique, in these posts Julie has focused on the aspects of the distribution and marketing campaign for the film that are most relevant for other filmmakers to apply to their own work. I will be featuring Julie’s series of guest posts this week and next. Here is part 1:

The secrets of the $300 million independent film.
by Julie Eckersley

A few years ago a small independent film made over $300 million dollars in profit. To my astonishment this film, and the lessons we can learn from it have been widely ignored by the film industry. Personally, I was so in awe of what the filmmaker achieved I changed my Masters thesis to a study of her process and outcomes. This 5-part blog series is a summary of what I found.

The Secret

In early 2006, Australian TV producer Rhonda Byrne launched her feature length documentary online. It was called The Secret. The film spread like wildfire around the globe as viewers took up the viral campaign Byrne had begun, making an estimated profit of $300 million.

For those of you who know the project you no doubt have strong opinions one way or another about the content of The Secret, and maybe even on the artistic merit of it. Valid as these may be, if we can look past them for a moment there are some incredible insights to be gleaned from Byrne particularly on how she ran her viral campaign and the process she used to launch her film.

Over 5 posts I am going to look at 10 things Byrne did which gave her film the best chance of global success and how you can use them to aid your own projects.

As this is a summary I am aware that the following ideas will be somewhat reductive but if you would like to read a full version of my thesis just email me at: productivewords@hotmail.com

Lesson 1: Start Strong

So first things first.
Start with a strong idea that has audience appeal. It may sound obvious and yet?

Right from the beginning of The Secret, Byrne was acutely aware of her audience. She tapped into a passionate community and told their story in a new way. For those of you who have done Jon’s fantastic “Think Outside the Box Office” course you will recognise ”tapping into niches‘ as one of his key points. Byrne’s film is a great example of this at work. Byrne found a niche and knew exactly who her film was being aimed at.

Recently Film Victoria in Australia ran an seminar called ”Arresting Audiences‘ Film makers from all over Australia gathered to focus on how to identify and engage audiences. The summit was the first of its kind in Australia, which is amazing really. Isn’t that what it is all about – the audience? Isn’t that why we make films, or TV or online projects – to engage, communicate and entertain? And if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?

Key question to ask at the beginning of your project:

1. Who are the niches, the subcultures that your story appeals to?
2. Where is the passion and how can you utilise this and tap into it?
3. Are their online communities already set up around this area and how can you include them in the process of the film, not just the marketing?
4. Does your idea have public interest?
5. Is it a story people want to hear?
6. Can you work this out before you start?

Marketing guru Jay Abraham, in the pre-internet days, would run classified ads in newspapers and magazines. If he wanted to write a book about something, he’d run a classified ad, taking orders for the book, but he wouldn’t even write the book until he got a good response from the classified ad. If the world just didn’t seem to be responding to his book idea, he just refunded their deposit. But if an idea got a huge response, he’d say, “I better write that – fast!”

How could you use this same idea to gauge audience interest in your film before you make it?

One of the keys to Byrnes success was that she picked an idea that already had followers. The central idea of her film is that your thoughts are energy and when you think of something – either positive or negative – you draw it towards you. This idea had many passionate followers but they were not united. She tapped into the key influencers in this area and brought them together under the banner of her film.

To be continued.

Julie Eckersley currently works at Matchbox Pictures.
www.matchboxpictures.com
Follow us on Twitter @MatchboxPic
Email: productivewords@hotmail.com