Indie filmmakers and BRANDING


Most people don’t think much about branding, and when they do, they take a look at a logo, think of it as “a brand,” and move on.

But a brand is so much more than a logo. It is the entire perception, the emotional feeling evoked, of a company, person or product. The brand is a product of diligent, consistent and focused marketing efforts.

The biggest brand in media is DISNEY. Ask any family what movie is likely to serve their needs, and they’ll say “Disney.” The emotional identity attached to Disney is greater than other studios, production companies, or networks.

Brands must be carefully cultivated and nurtured. They require consistency (e.g., never allow the use of a period in Dr Pepper; that would not be consistent. Never allow high prices at Walmart; that would not be consistent.) They grow out of good, sound marketing, and they take hold by being consistent and true.

Brands trigger an emotional response as well as presumptions of quality.

They can be mixed: when you think AT&T Wireless, you probably presume quality and you probably have a horrible emotional reaction to dealing with the company. In AT&T’s case, the presumption of quality trumps the abysmal emotional response about customer service. In fact, the terrible emotional response is probably beyond reality; their bad brand cannot seem to rise above the fact that their customer service is improving (I think).

Yes, branding can be bad, too. However, there is a common notion that presumes “branding” is the same as “lying.” No, it is not. A dishonest attempt at creating a brand image is a function of dishonesty, not branding.

For filmmakers, the emotional response will trump the presumption of quality. People can have “feel good” vibes about a movie that has piss-poor production values.

For the indie filmmaker, the biggest issue about brand is “bankable talent.” The notion of bankable talent is so much larger than life that filmmakers and distributors alike frequently cannot grasp that what they are talking about is brand.

The reason an actor is worth having in a movie is because of the actor’s brand. An actor works hard to cultivate a consistent image that evokes emotional bonding and presumptions of quality. (Even when an actor “stretches” into unexpected parts, we want to follow them if we have favorable feelings toward their brand—and for an opposite reaction, observe Joaquin Phoenix for the past two years. He might be able to redeem his brand.)

What is significant about realizing that we “need” actors because of their brand? Even though few distributors would grasp this—the rote requirement of bankable talent seems to rest on its own level, devoid of analysis about why any actor is bankable and “needed,”—the function of branding can be transferred to other resources besides actors.

The big actors have done all the heavy lifting, spending years cultivating a brand that can attract an audience. They transfer the power of their brand to your movie. You hope.

But there is always proof that there are other elements that can also attract audiences. For instance, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP relied on the Banksy brand, even though he is not an actor. MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING may have been banking on the brand of the producers.

Here’s the best news for indie filmmakers:

What brand drove PARANORMAL ACTIVITY to spectacular heights? It was pure marketing, the best marketing: a brand was created out of nothing. Kudos to Paramount! They built a brand from scratch, and now we watch as that brand is selling PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 to equally astonishing heights. People had a strong emotional reaction and a presumption of quality toward PA2. Success!

Is it cheaper to build a brand from scratch than to acquire the existing brand of a well-known actor? Not usually. You spend marketing dollars either way. Maybe a million dollars will build a brand from scratch, or maybe a million dollars will hire a well-known actor. But, building a brand from scratch can be more efficient and more rewarding, and can have longer-lasting results for the filmmaker and for sequels.

Never underestimate the power and requirement for marketing. YOUR MOVIE’S BRAND IS BUILT WITH MARKETING. A brand can come from bankable actors (who built their own brands from marketing efforts and consistently over many years and many films)…or, marketing can build a brand from scratch. But either way, we gotta market our films and build a BRAND for our film.

3 thoughts on “Indie filmmakers and BRANDING

  1. and I would add that filmmakers have to build brands around themselves. The more value you are perceived to have as an artist, the more leverage to make deals with, the more offers come your way, the more people want to be aligned with you. If your name doesn’t evoke an image in people’s minds of what they can expect from you then, you have to build and cultivate it. Don’t hide behind your work, letting the property have all the recognition or the company who distributed it have all the recognition.


  2. I agree. The filmmaker cultivates a personal brand.

    It’s human nature. We want to know whom we can trust, we want to be comfortable with our understanding of who someone is, we want to figure out what’s reasonable to expect from those in our lives.

    If filmmakers want to be allowed into someone’s life —and films are intimate manipulations of people’s emotions that demand to be allowed into anyone’s life — then we need to show them consistency, reliability, and a sense of what to expect.

    In the public eye, that’s “branding”.


  3. Pingback: Wednesday Wisdom: thoughts on branding | Ottawa Film

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s