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Conferences + Festivals

Twitter: Why Should Filmmakers Bother?


The world seems to be split into two: Twitter Evangelists and Twitter Rejecters.  Although I think it might be fairer to say that the world isn’t so much divided, as at the two ends of a continuum.  Most people start as a Rejecter, but given the time and opportunity, will become an Evangelist and will find it inconceivable that others aren’t using Twitter too.

But what’s the point? First, let’s define what Twitter is. As you probably know, it’s a micro-blogging tool that allows you to communicate – or Tweet – messages of 140 characters or fewer to whoever is following you, or whoever is searching for the words that you include in your tweets.  Someone (I don’t remember who) once described Facebook as – and I paraphrase – the “place where you find your friends annoying and Twitter is where you find strangers interesting”. And that’s true. Twitter is great for getting eyewitness accounts on events around the world, for finding links to interesting articles and for striking up conversations with people in your neighbourhood, or even on the other side of the world. So the sharp-eyed development researcher might spot a story on the other side of the world as it breaks, which is great for getting in first with that fast-turnaround documentary pitch. Or you might just find someone who can recommend a great restaurant or hotel for your next trip to an industry conference or festival. I’ve just been using it to source a transmission party venue for a Sky Arts documentary I helped to develop.

Here are some more things Twitter is good for:

  • Eavesdropping on TV conferences  and documentary festivals that you can’t attend in person. Enter #Sundance or #Realscreen when those festivals are in full swing and you’ll be able to follow what’s going on in all the various panel sessions (the hashtag tends to change each year so look for the right one on the festival’s website). It’s a great way to pick up some commissioning tips and get a sense of what the commissioners are currently excited about. To the right are some of my real-time commentary on a panel session on comedy reality programming at the RealScreen Summit 2013.
  •  @tvmole  #realscreen13 comedy reality shows didn’t always start out as comedy shows – often evolve into comedy
  • @tvmole  #realscreen13 need to show characters on tape to sell a comedy reality show – killer karaoke would not have sold on paper
  • @tvmole  #realscreen13 one show sold on a skype tape because the characters were so strong
  • @tvmole #realscreen13 sometimes the better comedy comes when things go awry in the field – makes it more authentic than something more ‘produced’
  • @tvmole  #realscreen13 saying “this is the next Honey Boo Boo” is off putting. Better to say family comedy
  • @tvmole  #realscreen13 hit shows most often come when producer guided by network as to what will work best for them
  • @tvmole  #realscreen13 if you don’t have a track record with a network best to partner with prodco that does
  • Finding out if there’s a better session at the conference you’re at. When I was at the Guardian Edinburgh International TV Festival a couple of years ago, I was sitting in a rather dull Meet the Commissioner session and feeling distracted. Ex-glamor model and reality TV star Katie Price had been booked to be interviewed by ex-comedienne and clinical psychologist Pamela Connelly but Katie had pulled out at the last minute and I was anxious to know who had been substituted. A quick tweet later someone in the auditorium tweeted back to advise I stay where I was as it was just Pamela Connelly being interviewed by someone else. Problem sorted – I could stay where I was without missing out on anything juicy.
  • Building a mutually-beneficial community of like-minded people. If you post interesting links, handy tips and respond to questions, people will follow you, recommend you to others and start interacting with you in bite-sized conversations. And these relationships can turn into real-life ones too. At a recent talk I gave, at least three people (strangers) were there because we’d conversed on Twitter.  Other people (also strangers) spontaneously tweet about my books, quote them and have even sent me photos of them sitting on bookshelves some 3,000 miles across the Atlantic. As people recommend you, so your reputation grows and the opportunity for promoting your film project or your expertise also increases. Word of mouth is a powerful thing – and essential if you ever want to launch a successful crowdfunding campaign.
  • Getting feedback on your work. ‘Tune in’ to twitter any evening and you’re likely to see TV programs being discussed, and when you do, you can bet the ratings are going to be good. But this real-time feedback is much more powerful than stark overnight figures: you can see what people are saying about your film minute by minute (which perhaps isn’t for the faint-hearted).

But the best way to find out how Twitter will be useful to you is to start using it. It takes seconds to sign up and then you need to start tweeting. Start following some people (you can use the search function to search for keywords or people’s names) and very soon, you’ll start gathering followers.

Do: Remember, if you are using it in a professional capacity, keep it relevant, keep it friendly and be helpful.

Don’t: Broadcast (it’s rude to talk at people), boast (it’s rude just to talk about yourself) or bemoan the ‘pointlessness’ of Twitter because if you do, you never will ‘get’ Twitter (or followers).

If you are interested development tips and industry intelligence on recent broadcast commissions follow me @tvmole




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