Why Is Data Important for Independent Filmmakers? A Guide

Creative Distribution fellow “Unrest’s” Facebook engagement.

Jess Fuselier

In today’s independent film industry, data analysis is the unknown for many and a superpower for the elite few. For giants like Netflix and Amazon, data analysis permeates their overall strategy and acts as a key driver of success. However, the information flow stops there; there’s an iron wall between indie filmmakers and the proprietors of this data.

Filmmakers rarely have access to real time data—they’re only given access to info such as box offices sales that can, at best, be used as blunt instruments when assessing the audience and market for their film or the efficacy of their marketing efforts.

Just like any competitive market, we can understand why companies of this echelon would hold their cards close. However, in the current climate, even the smallest increase in transparency could help create sustainability for those independent storytellers who have been left in the dark for quite some time now.

Before starting my work in the independent film industry, I worked on the frontlines of startup land as a web developer for a digital agency in Austin, Texas. Part of my job was to implement data analytics tracking on our websites and apps, meaning I was in charge of tracking down—through the code I was implementing—all of the information I possibly could on each user who interacted with our products.

In the Silicon Valley culture, companies and their developers tout this information like stats on a baseball card, throwing out terms like ‘average monthly users,’ ‘average revenue per user,’ and ‘conversion rate’ as if they were batting averages. They study these stats and test ways they can refine their strategies in real time to achieve their goals most effectively.

For those who hear these terms as though they were spoken in a different language, I understand their daunting nature—when I started learning how to code, I only knew how to turn my computer on, write a document, and Google search. And as someone predisposed to using the right side of my brain more than the left, I understand how these practices can seem cold and devoid of human touch.

However, as the filmmaking and filmgoing culture becomes increasingly embedded in the digital sphere, understanding data driven vocabulary and deploying associated practices will help artists and their teams find their audience and engage with them more substantively. Let’s take a few minutes to decode the ‘inside baseball’ and define some key terms in the field of digital marketing and data analysis as they pertain to filmmakers.

Data: Any factual or statistical information you collect regarding your film and its audience.

Web Analytics: The collection and analysis of website data. How many times did a user click on that particular button? Where is most of your website traffic coming from?

CMS: Content Management System—think Squarespace and WordPress. These systems enable you to build a website with minimal to zero coding required.

Google Analytics: Google’s analytics tracking platform. It’s free! Most CMS platforms have tutorials (YouTube is my best friend) on easy Google Analytics implementation. By implementing this on your website, you’ll be able to view a dashboard of your basic web analytics data.

Pixeling: Placing this bit of code on a page of your website can help you track users’ actions. You can also use retargeting pixels for social ad campaigns – when you place one of these on your website it will retarget your social media ads to show up in the feed of people who have visited your site.

Impressions: How many eyeballs did your ads and boosted content reach? That’s your number of impressions.

Engagement: How is someone interacting with the content you’re sharing? Are they passively engaging by clicking on and reading your content, or are they actively engaging by commenting and sharing it with their community?

Conversion Rate and CRO: Conversion is when a fan follows through on an action you would like them to take, so the conversion rate would be the number of people who carried out the intended action divided by the number of people who just clicked through but didn’t ultimately follow through completely. CRO is the practice of studying the conversion rate to determine how you can change things on your website or social media ads to encourage more fans to take specific actions.

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO: When you take certain steps, like adding metadata for each of your website pages, to help your page show up in search engines, like Google.

CTA, or Call to Action: These are the actions you encourage a fan to take, like a button with the CTA ‘Buy tickets now.’

A/B Testing: This is the practice of having a couple different versions of an ad or post, running them at the same time, and seeing which has a higher conversion rate or level of engagement.

Geotargeting: This is the practice of determining where a site visitor is located and serving up content for them that is based on their location.

Bounce Rate: What percentage of people who visited your site only viewed the page by which they entered the site and didn’t interact with other pages or CTAs on your website? That’s your bounce rate.

Unique Views: This is the number of individual people who visit your site.

CPC, or Cost Per Click: This is the amount you pay per click when running a CPC ad.

CPM, or Cost Per Thousand: The amount you pay every time your ad reaches 1,000 impressions (or eyeballs).

So there you have it, some terms to add to your filmmaker data tool belt. Even if you’re not the one on your team implementing these data tracking techniques, it’s important to have a base knowledge of these practices since they’re becoming so instrumental to the success of independent film campaigns.

Over the coming months, the Sundance Institute’s Creative Distribution Initiative will be releasing content centered around independent film data analysis, including in depth case studies about the two inaugural films of our current Creative Distribution Fellowship.

Follow us at Sundance.org or on Medium as we dive into world of independent film data analysis and share our insights along the way. By championing data transparency, we hope to shed light on areas of the industry that have remained opaque for quite sometime.

Feel free to reach out anytime creativedistribution@sundance.org.

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