HOLLYWOOD — Given that indie feature budgets, especially for marketing, are leaner than a supermodel on celery, the opportunities providing their makers with audience research would seem, well, slim.
But a new company, filmBUZZ, is cutting deals with regional fests to gauge auds’ responses at all their screenings. The company makes money by spotlighting films and trends for buyers, helping festivals better gauge aud reactions, and helping filmmakers market their projects.
“There’s a lot of great content that’s not at the five or six biggest festivals,” says filmBUZZ partner Kerry Edelstein. “And festival audiences are reflective of the kinds of crowds that go to arthouses. We’re actually recruiting an opening-weekend kind of crowd.”
The company has handled both fiction and doc features in its first six months. FilmBUZZ keeps overhead low by testing as many films as possible per festival, so it can efficiently gather info on a dozen of films in just a few hectic days.
Some critics say festival audiences really aren’t that motivated, attending films merely because they’re part of a big event. And many audiences are filled with filmmakers’ friends and family, which can skew research results.
But Edelstein says the research is better because fest audiences pay, which means they are far more likely to be frank in their assessments than the usual mallgoer handed a pair of free screening tickets.
Filmmaker reports cost an indie-friendly $500. But the company hopes to make bigger money with buyers, spotlighting overall trends at regional fests such as St. Louis, Newport Beach and Nantucket.
“We’re trying to find that second-place film that shows up in second place in a lot of festivals,” Edelstein says. “That shows it can do well with all kinds of audiences all over.”
To be sure, there are daunting downsides, the biggest just paying the bills.
One potentially lucrative approach, taking a piece of a promising film in exchange for marketing and sales help, is rife with conflicts, so the company is devising other approaches and raising outside capital.
The company faces little direct competition, though. NRG and MarketCast (owned by Variety parent Reed Business) are the two research companies that battle to handle major releases. Filmfinders provides buyers with contact info, but no audience research. Withoutabox.com helps filmmakers get into festivals. Between all those companies is where filmBUZZ has staked its future.