EP 65: The Truth About Independent Films and Brand Partnerships

In this episode, Stacy shares the truth about working with independent films and brand partnerships.

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Independent Films And Brand Partnerships

  • Welcome to another episode of Marketing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them) I’m Stacy Jones and today I’m going to talk to you about independent films And Brand Partnerships.


The Assumption

  • Independent producers call or email our agency on an almost daily basis, under the impression that numerous brands have opened their pocket books to finance feature films, that the brand shows up on screen and, Abracadabra! Money goes into the production’s pocket.


  • While this impression is certainly not supported by any sort of fact, it stands to hold that it would be reasonable that corporate brand partnerships with independent feature films could indeed help a production gain a foothold to additional financing they may not have otherwise had. At a minimum, a brand partnership could provide significant production savings to help lower the production costs’ bottom line.


  • But here’s the deal.  With a handful of very rare exceptions, a brand is not going to provide your independent film with a 7 figure + financing opportunity, whether you credit the deal as a brand integration or the brand as co-producer. And they likely aren’t going to give you any money at all.


A List Or No Dollars

  • So why is it so hard to get money from brands? Well brands just are not in the position to finance movies.  They are in the business to market their product.  And the only way they are going to get excited about parting with some dollars over to your production, is if you can prove that it is a no-fail marketing opportunity.


  • So what do I mean by that? No fail marketing means you have guaranteed distribution. Which as an independent filmmaker, you just don’t have until after you have finished your film and shopped it.  Lovely Catch 22 right?


  • And when I say brands are in the business to market their product – they prefer tried and true ways.  So if they haven’t done product placement before, it can be a really hard sell in.  And if they are active in product placement, then they are very knowledgeable about what they could be receiving in exchange of their product. Or at least their agency is.


  • And that means you need to have stellar, and I mean really stellar A-list cast members attached.  If someone is sitting in a corporate office, that is in their mid to late forties, hasn’t heard of your cast members?  Just realize it is going to be an automatic no.  Brand managers are not going to be enthralled with the idea of up and comers. They want to work with bright shiny STARS that can help bring awareness to their brand.


Social Influencers As Cast

  • And if you are relying on having social influencers starring in your film, and anticipating that the brand will be excited about that? The answer is… no.  Not unless the social influencer is going to be posting about the brand on the set.  And typically those big named influencers are actually getting a lot of dollars for each of their posts, so they are not going to just post about the brand because you asked them to. Having the influencer be in the film, holding the product? Unless you have planned distribution (and please do not say ‘the influencer will bring the audience) then that’s not likely to get them very excited either.  So my suggestion to you – if you do have social influencers on your production, pre-negotiate what they will do for the brands who come on board the project.  Because if you really need the money, the trade off, the co-promotion from the brand, the brand is going to need something too.


Your Script

  • And if your script doesn’t allow their brand to be in a shining light? Then that also means it’s a no.  Probably to brand participation at any level, including loan of product.  So those dramas on that super quirky character coming of age, which you absolutely know are going to be able to make a run for an Oscar?  Probably that’s a no.  And that also means horror films have a major uphill battle to climb to be able to sell in even interest of consideration.


Money Money Money

  • But wait – didn’t you just read yesterday online about how much is spent on product placement?  Well… there are dollars spent.  And there is fabulous folklore about how this producer or that producer managed to fund their production through brand partnerships.  And some very rare productions where that did happened due to a publicity stunt. But it’s typically pretty much the stuff of legends.  It is really really rare.  And if it is going to happen? You as the producer is going to have to make that happen. An agency or agent is not going to do that magic for you.  Get ready to put on your top hat and dance.


  • Chalk it up to a lot of hype in the media which gets somewhat confused by one study that is released every few years, and which is more focused on TV spending on major networks with product placement add ons.  There just hasn’t been that much research shared on how much independent film producers actually make from brand partnerships.  But as an agency that has both pitched productions to brands, and who spends a majority of our time building out brand partnerships within all types of content – there is very little money exchanging hands still. And certainly not hundreds of thousands of dollars to independent films.


  • Let’s say you have the perfect film. It has mega stars that are super recognizable. It has a fun storyline.  It’s not crass. It’s not scary.  There are no horrible scenes of death and destruction.  You know – you’ve basically stripped out anything that is going to make your movie truly unique and great… because brands don’t want unique. They want what appeals to the masses.  Then you know what?  You might be able to get brand deals.  But realize you are going to have to adapt your script for that brand, and have them approve the story dialogue around their brand.


  • Oh, and let’s talk about the money part of the equation.  You have gotten a brand on board. Congratulations!!!! You as a producer are likely hoping to get the dollars up front, so you can have them go towards overhead of the production.  Wrong!  You are only going to get paid on the back end – after production has filmed in most cases.  After the final edit is cut. And after you have delivered the finished piece to the brand to see.  And then you need to wait 30 to 45 days… because brands typically pay on a delayed 30 or 45 day net term period to align with their corporate finance department’s regulations.


The Brand Partnership Options

  • So if a brand isn’t willing to finance your independent film, what can they do?  Instead, the brand may offer you significant production savings through the following:


Traditional Product Placement

  • Loan of the product that you otherwise would have had to purchase or at the least rent.  There is not only the time saved from having to have your production crew hunt down, get clearances, cut checks, and actually purchase product for the set, but the actual product costs as well.  And products for on set – from props, to sets, locations to rent out, wardrobe items and even cars and planes, can cost a heck of a lot to either purchase or rent on a temporary basis.  And this is still where most brands are going to likely be participating with your project.


  • But don’t expect a brand to just gift you product.  They expect it back unless it is consumable.  Brands don’t have, no matter what you may think, warehouses allocated to have items sent out to productions.  Every item made has an end-destination.  If the brand works with a product placement agency they will have an inventory available.  If they don’t, then it is much harder to navigate securing the items.


  • And if your project doesn’t absolutely meet their goals of content type, storyline and even celebrity power?  Then they won’t participate.  There is now so much content being produced, that the opportunities are just overwhelming. And it’s hard for a production to stand out.  In order to even get the trade out and loan deals, your production needs to position itself as a stand out to those brand managers.


Trade Out Of Product

  • Our team has saved productions half a million dollars or more in big action movies on trade out deals, where the brand never paid to be in the film, but provided a handful of cars for a scene to destroy.  Or coordinating airline tickets and free hotel rooms for the cast and crew. Or all that on set craft services food and beverages they need to eat.  Trade out should never be ignored.  With the right partnerships, the production can save a truly significant amount of money.   And that means you can spend it elsewhere.  But it won’t help you with getting your project financed.


Co-Promotion Of Your Film

  • Cross promotion of your film can occur through the brand’s media, social media and/or retail points of display.  This results in bringing new eyes to your property and influencing those future all-important box office ticket numbers. This can help you save marketing dollars that you – or your future distribution partner – would have to spend, and make your property a lot more attractive to distributors overall. This also makes you more likely to attract gap financing partners, as you are more likely to be seen as a success and a worthwhile risk.


  • You win here at the box office, as more tickets are purchased, more money goes into the producer’s pocket.  But this doesn’t help you out with production costs.  And if you are a filmmaker who is selling your independent project to one of the bigger studios, you have no control over who they will allow to do co-promotional partnerships with your film.  We’ve had plenty of studio and non-studio deals where a promotion was pre-negotiated with the producers, and the studio has come back at the end and squashed it.  Removing a big reason why the brand was excited to partner with the film in the first place.


Cash Deals

  • And then the golden chalice. A cash fee – likely not as much as you dream of, but still cash – paid for showcasing the brand on screen with full logo, positive usage and brand messaging incorporated into the storyline.  I like to tell people that cash deals should be thought of icing on the cake, and not the cake itself.  It sounds good but it does not work. Do not go after brands to co-finance your production. It’s a very bad plan that you won’t find success with.


  • As an independent producer, realize you have an uphill battle.  It can be fought and won, but you need to keep realistic expectations in place. And know that you need to figure out how to make your project a winner for the brand.  That means – what else can you do to make your project enticing? Can you provide behind the scenes content for them to share through their social and digital universe?  Something cut for them to show at trade shows? Can you do some cast gifting of the brand – and get photos of it? What about making a plan for your first screening and red carpet walk… with the brand on the step and repeat with  products given out too?  Find opportunities you can leverage, so that the brand has more interest in spending with you – whether that is just product costs or real hard cold cash dollars.  The more options you can find that help them across their various own internal departments, the more likelihood they can scrape together some cash (or products) that will help your bottom line.


  • We have a truly excellent e-book guide to how product placement works that you can download from our website at Hollywood Branded.com.  And if you want some more helpful hints… visit our content library which has a ton of helpful tips and tricks, or our blog – blog.hollywoodbranded.com – where we have hundreds of articles all created to help you become a better brand marketer.


  • That’s it for this episode.  I hope it was helpful, and please let me know if you have any feedback!  I’ll see you next week.  And as always, if you need a little – or lot – of help, my agency Hollywood Branded is here to lend a hand.  If you would leave a review or any questions I can address in the future, I’d really appreciate it as your feedback helps me know my advice is valuable and interesting to you!



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