Take A Picture, It’ll Last Longer

It’s movie awards season! Time to try to predict which films will take home the honors, as “watch lists” grow exponentially with lesser-known titles that have landed in front of the world as nominees.

Can’t you just FEEL the magic?

While we love to watch the best in the biz bask in the glory of the recognition, we also celebrate the increased traffic we’re likely to see across digital platforms and streaming services. (Guess we’re just suckers for revenue opportunities.)

So…let’s return to one of our favorite topics: grabbing the consumer’s eye and getting that dollar on a transactional platform. (Or, frankly, getting that licensing deal with a streaming partner.)

We’ve written previously about the importance of a good synopsis, with some specific tips on how to write one. We’ve shared some key art and the capabilities of our in-house design team for our partners. (And yes, we’ll get to trailers and marketing plans soon.)

However, all this Award Season emphasis on all the various roles that go into filmmaking prompts us to think about the one thing that is consistently neglected by filmmakers…but is arguably critical to the commercial success of the film into which they’ve put their hearts, souls, and sometimes their own money.

Photography. It’s photography.

When filmmakers budget for all the essentials that go into the technical production of a film, photography is often considered an unnecessary line item. A “nice to have” not a “must-have” and, anyway, marketing is something to think about later. Oh, friends…

Making a movie is expensive. Decisions need to be made on where to spend, especially with limited funding. It’s often a tug of war between creative and commercial interests. Marketing is where these opposing forces need to connect, for the good of the whole project.

“It is infinitely better to plan for the marketing needs in pre-production than to rely on things magically falling into place later.”

-Julianne Gorman
Distribution Solutions
Senior Director, Marketing

Once a film is in the post-production window, marketing suddenly looms largely in the picture. This is generally when a designer is hired to create a polished film poster (and/or digital image) that will convey everything a viewer needs to know about the film itself, drawing them into the cinematic world the filmmakers have conspired to bring to life.

The Producer Provides the Assets

Here is where we separate the wheat from the chaff, as someone familiar with harvesting might say. But really, this is where we see what happens when planning and budget align with overarching goals for the film’s marketing.

Scenario A:

The designer is delivered stills that in actuality are screencaps, and generally not usable, with lighting that is “moody” in the film but that reads as “muddy” when isolated as a still shot. The assets include 100s of behind-the-scenes snaps of cast, crew, and equipment on location–99.9% of this BTS material cannot be used for key art creation, but the designer has to weed through all of them just in case. Typically, some stills that look good are low-res and no one can locate a higher-res version. And lastly, the designer gets a mock-up of a layered poster created by someone early in the process and then never revisited. The result is the need to license stock photography and fundamentally, this takes the art away from the vision behind the film…and into more ‘generic’ territory.

Let’s move on…

Scenario B:

The designer receives hi-resolution, forward-facing shots of principal cast…in hair/makeup/wardrobe of their characters! Also within the photographic assets are shots of the location, key visual iconography of the film (i.e. an image of the rustic cabin in the woods, a beauty shot of the scenery), and close-ups of meaningful props–like a child’s lost doll, or the bloody murder weapon). These are shot under good lighting conditions, are high resolution, and give the designer loads of material for an inspired look that feels uniquely connected to the film itself.

Scenario B is obviously the ideal, right? When you see it laid out like that, planning for marketing is clearly important. That just leaves the other hurdle: money.

Paying for a photographer to come on one day to capture the key cast, and having time set aside for taking those photos may be an investment…but one with a high return. This will pay for itself, as truly great poster art elevates the look, feel, and perceived quality of the film. And licensing stock photography to “fill in the gaps” can cost the same as paying for a photoshoot. It’s a deferred expense…not an avoided one.

But if there is truly no money for photography? A first-time filmmaker, with little in the way of outside financing, for example. Well, that’s an opportunity to work those connections — and rejoice in the excellent technology in everyone’s pocket these days. Maybe it’s a film school peer with a phone — or a cousin who is great at Instagram — just a reliable individual who can come to set and shoot the photos needed, as outlined in Scenario B.

We advocate paying what is possible (asking any professional to be “paid by the exposure” is patently uncool). Barter if needed (i.e. shooting someone’s wedding video, or editing a family reunion slide show in exchange for a few hours of their time). Use their photos for PR, ensure they get photo credit…and maybe even a credit in the film itself, to beef up their IMDb page (If that’s their thing.)

Solicit group-sourced photos from a number of people on set, each working from a shared list provided well in advance– of what you need to capture. Then they need only upload their “actual size” shots to a shared drive for review and curation later.

Above all else, if trying for “free” is the route, prioritize the clear photography of key cast in good lighting…don’t want to leave that up to chance.

In the absence of money, advance planning and confirmed photography support will move the assets into the Scenario B zone…and ensure the film’s merits shine, through all creative touchpoints.

We hope this PSA on the importance of photography has been an enjoyable and helpful read. Reach out to us at studios@ds.aent.com if you want to talk marketing with the team at Distribution Solutions. We love this stuff!

Easy as S-B-T

Not so long ago, retailers across our delightful nation started to discuss new trading terms for their home entertainment departments.

Quickly the “talk” turned to adoption across the marketplace. While whispers of “Scan Based Trading” were just beginning to buzz in the corridors and conference rooms of other distributors and studios, our team was already leading the charge to transition our labels into this new world as seamlessly as possible.

But let’s back up. Not everyone even knows what we’re talking about. To appreciate this pivot fully, here’s the backstory: the home entertainment industry existed for decades under a model where the process was pretty much as follows:

  • (1) distributors pitched retail buyers,
  • (2) orders were placed by retailers for all those awesome DVD titles,
  • (3) goods were shipped to retail stores and warehouses by distributors, who then
  • (4) collected monies after an agreed-upon interval of time.

Most of these DVD/Blu-ray goods were expected/projected to go home with happy customers, with a certain unfortunate percentage destined to return to distribution warehouses eventually. In this model, a retailer’s resources were tied up in inventory, awaiting a sale.

The Scan Based Trading model represents a different approach entirely. With SBT, suppliers maintain the ownership of the inventory within the retailers’ stores or warehouses until the item is scanned at the point of sale. This reduces financial risk on behalf of the retailer, while literally, nothing looks different to the consumer in the store.

But what’s the impact on the supplier? We asked Pat McDonough, our SVP of Sales and here are his thoughts on the topic:

“The benefit of the SBT model is that it gives Distribution Solutions control of the space, which guarantees product placement for our label partners. It also allows us to make sure that the right product is in the right stores for the best sell-through.”

Pat McDonough, SVP Sales

As far as scope, Distribution Solutions currently trades on SBT terms with Target, Best Buy, FYE, Fred Meyer, and Bi-Mart. But that’s not all…

Distribution Solutions also manages SBT inventory within Dollar General (with permanent racks in 4,700 of their 17k stores!) and Menards (a value bin AND a dedicated 4’x6′ fixture).

Our team’s dedicated floor space and fixtures represent valuable opportunities for our team to curate re-sets that support the lifecycle planning of our partners’ content. Our relationships also allow us to think outside the box (and in-line sections) and place trays and other specialty POS displays to support key releases across these accounts.

To learn more about Scan Based Trading and Distribution Solutions, drop us a note at studios@ds.aent.com

Sell It, Don’t Tell It

You’re on the couch, at the end of some kind of quasi-soul crushing week that has left you in a state of agitation. You pick up the remote and fire up your favorite app. Destination: Complete and Utter Escape. You’re seeking a cheesy rom-com guilty-pleasure (that you would never admit to having watched) — and you need it STAT!

You browse the rows upon rows of tantalizing movie posters, expanding those that show promise (or that you haven’t already watched). Your eyes stop at the attractive couple on the artwork for a new indie film called The Love Errand. Okay, you think…and you pause to skim the text that will guide your journey’s next step.

And you read: “Gina, a secretary who is also a single mom, is angry when her boss, David, asks her to run an errand that takes her to a sketchy part of town when she is supposed to be at her son’s school but ends up finding love with a shopkeeper at a bookstore.”

…and you return to the main menu with a shudder.

Womp-womp…wilted romance-like.

The above (entirely fictitious) example meets the “250 characters-including-spaces” long synopsis limit. And that is the only thing it is doing right. But stay tuned, rom-com fan and savvy marketer…help is on the way:

An effective synopsis that fits within common character-count restrictions is the goal…and fortunately, with a sense of imagination, a thorough knowledge of the content, and thesaurus.com, there are a few basic rules to go from ‘meh’ to “yeah!”

  1. Don’t include character names. No one cares about fictitious characters and they eat up valuable story-telling space. (Exception: your documentary. For sure include the name of a notable subject!)
  2. Sell It – Don’t Tell It! (As they say in the biz) You want to intrigue the audience so that they feel that little spark of “wonder what happens next” and dive into the super amazing trailer you created.
  3. Be judicious with adjectives. Don’t overdo it, quantity-wise — and use words that will appeal to the genre’s target audience. Again, the ‘synonyms’ function in Microsoft Word is your friend…you can whittle away quite a bit of character count by choosing wisely here.

Easy-peasy!

Now, let’s rewind…to that moment when The Love Errand was still under consideration. You click and read:

“A single mom, working for a top publisher, finds herself in a race against time…with a daunting list of errands for her demanding boss. Sparks fly when her tasks put her on a collision course with a handsome bookseller with a To-Do list of his own.”

We both know what happens next…

Enjoy your movie! (Your secret’s safe with us.)

For more exciting tips like this, drop us a line…we’ve got a million of ’em. studios@ds.aent.com!

Getting Creative

Winning! Some of Mill Creek Entertainment’s 22 Home Media Awards

At Distribution Solutions, we work with some of the best designers in the business — experts at creating appealing packaging and engaging digital key art, and much much more! And when we say “work with” we mean that we are all part of the Alliance family of brands and our actual co-workers. (Lucky us!)

Our Minneapolis-based designers are the force behind Mill Creek Entertainment’s 22 (and counting) Home Media Awards. They provide high-quality packaging that resonates with consumers, with designs that are recognized consistently by industry peers.

The Alliance Creative team (Irvine, CA) has won over 20 NARM advertising awards, developing unique campaigns for retail. Customized, beautifully designed, internally illustrated, and stand-alone – their work is key to the sell-through of some of the best and brightest catalog titles in the music category.

Our team creates custom POS displays across entertainment product types.

Our label partners can tap into the creativity behind all those awards!

Once the assets are in-house, we take it from there, with creative direction –managing the communication priorities (genre, talent, press quotes, taglines) — and driving the process of collaboration until we reach the final approval process with our label partners. Our capabilities also include handling final packaging uploads, print proofing, printing, and getting parts where they need to be for final assembly.

Browse the galleries for a sampling of recent work…for DVD, Blu-ray, collectible formats such as SteelBook® ! Our team knows how to create value and connect with fans!

Deluxe Blu-ray Editions

If a partner can dream it, we can design it. And if they can’t dream it, our team will do the dreaming on their behalf. We thrive on creating cool, collectible stuff that fans can’t live without.

Specialty Packaging

Our team creates key art optimized for virtual storefronts, creating & delivering versions of that art for nearly 30 custom sizes, covering every required aspect for digital and linear platforms!

Digital Key Art

We are proud to offer “boutique agency” quality and service, coupled with the product management know-how of our entire team..saving our label partners time, money, and the hassle of managing multiple vendors and complicated timelines.

To see more of our team’s stellar work and to learn about our rates and full suite of services, reach out to us at studios@ds.aent.com today!