London-based marketing expert Deborah Rowland may have the aura of a prim, poised, and proper headmistress from a posh public school, but her astute business acumen quickly shone through in her presentation entitled One in a Million! Having come to Hamburg after just escaping a hurricane in Mexico she settled down to a less dramatic event: presentation of practical rapid-fire advice for marketing films sprinkled with ironic, sometimes wicked wit, not always necessarily discernable to her audience. Deborah has had more than twenty years’ experience in independent film distribution, and has recently started up a new company called Shear Tonic.
Planning, Positioning, and Knowing Your Audience were the cornerstones of her speech. Detailed descriptions of each were given with the help of twin screens displaying her PowerPoint presentation. She especially captivated the audience—and, to her, film distribution is “all about the audience”—when she described the ad campaigns for several movies. For the critically acclaimed The King’s Speech the initial question, how to attract the British audience, was solved when it was decided to directly appeal to patriotism:
(Ah, the grandeur of the British monarchy reigns.) As an aside Deborah confided that no decent stills had been taken during the filming, and it cost £20,000 to bring back the two actors for this shot.
We Need to Talk About Kevin was, she admitted, one of her favorite projects. Nothing was left up to chance with marketing the movie. There were different audiences to appeal to. The primary audience was the “Enid Audience,” the Surrey-based, upper- middle- class woman. Facebook was used to build up a profile for Enid. The poster eventually chosen for this audience was someone Enid could identify with: a red-with-rage Tilda Swinton. The secondary audience was more mixed, and included both male and female targets. The young actor Ezra Miller appeared on this poster in smoldering blue, an attempt to target a more diverse audience. In Italy the poster had a retro look of a mother and father sitting stiffly on the sofa, helpless, with a gigantic portrait of Kevin in Satanic red projected behind them. La Famiglia gone awry, of course, was the theme.
After an hour-long speech, it became quite clear that Creative Europe Desk Hamburg had picked a real winner to give filmmakers a cold water glimpse into the other side of the business. The look on Deborah Rowland’s face when a mature audience member earnestly asked her how she would react to the proposed title of his film Toilet was classic; her expression alone should have given him the impetus to choose another name. “Who is your audience?” she inquired with unmasked disdain. She made it quite clear with a headmistress’ glare it would certainly not include her.
Deborah Rowland transported the audience in the Studio Hamburg Lounge into a marketing world which leaves nothing to chance. Distribution of independent movies, up to thirty are released in the UK each week, is an exact science using multiple platforms, hooks, and events. Distributers use Facebook, leaked clips, and once her agency even set up a counseling helpline as a ploy to publicize the possible disturbing effect of the film Anti-Christ. Anything and everything goes to engage the audience.