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Learning to Love to Engage With The Crowd

Ed Burns headed to Twitter to engage with his audience: an army of film fans who could serve as connectors and influencers on his behalf.

At Ted Hope’s suggestion a few years ago, I started using Twitter to engage with my audience more directly. Ted spoke to me originally about the idea of cultivating 500 true fans…and then quickly amended that to 5000 true fans. The thinking was if you could amass an army of people who enjoyed your work, they could serve as connectors and influencers on your behalf.

With my last film Nice Guy Johnny, a great part of our success had to do with my Twitter followers getting out there and spreading the word. In fact, when I asked them to help get Nice Guy Johnny to the iTunes rental chart “top ten”, we immediately saw a spike in rentals and drove the title to number 6 on the chart over the course of 2 days.

Newlyweds movie posterWhen I sat down to flesh out my next script idea (which eventually became my movie, Newlyweds), I immediately put it out on Twitter, to gauge the interest of my followers. Given the positive response, I then asked them a number of questions during the writing process. I asked for suggestions of character’s names, and funny or interesting scenarios that happened in the first couple of months of marriage. We asked them to write one of the last lines of dialogue in the film. While I didn’t end up using any specific line, their ideas shaped the final scene. Lastly, I then asked their help in coming up with a title of the film. I had come up with a title, “Newlyweds in New York”, and we had an alternative title, “Triangles Below Canal” and asked the Twitterverse which they preferred. “Newlyweds in New York” won, but a few had suggested to drop the “of New York”, which my producer Aaron Lubin had been fighting for as well.

Given what a good time we had in engaging the audience, when we were in postproduction, we wanted to do something that might help reward “the true fans” and we decided to hold 2 contests. The first contest was a song contest. We asked unsigned artists to submit a song that we would place in a scene. We received over 250 submissions and eventually my producer and my editor Janet Gaynor and I picked the winning songwriter, Patrick McCormack, an unsigned 22 year-old artist from Philadelphia, who was then invited to the Tribeca Film Festival closing night premiere of Newlyweds and got to see his song used in front of an audience of 1000 people.

The next contest we held was our poster contest. We needed a poster we were going to use at the Tribeca Film Festival. So again I went out on Twitter and made the request. I only told the audience a little bit about the movie and asked them to submit any poster ideas they had and post them on my website and let the fans vote on which one they liked the most.

We had a few dozen submissions and David Ayllon, a 20 year-old artist from New Jersey, won with his clever image of 1950’s car leaving a wedding, trailed by the tin cans strung to the bumper….as well as the newly wedded couple, tangled in the web of string, a hint at troubles ahead.

Ted Hope also asked Ed a few questions as he not only want to learn from his practice, but want to share it with all of you.

Did you use the poster it generated for your primary poster? Why or why not?


The poster for Tribeca was used just for the Film Festival, but also has been made available to purchase on my website. But we always viewed this poster as a teaser poster, knowing that whoever purchased the film for distribution would have their own ideas about how to market the film and what the one sheet would look like.

How did you use the other posters?

There was a second poster that I personally fell in love with, that also happened to be in the top 5 vote-getting posters, but we made tee shirts of that poster, and they are available on my website as well.

Did you use other services to announce or host the poster contest? Were you satisfied with them if so, and then who?

Indiewire helped announce both the poster and the song contest. The contests were also picked up by a number of indie film blogs.

Did you supply fans with scenes from the movie in advance?

No, we only gave them a 140 character description of what the film was about.

How long should the contest be open?

We didn’t enter this with any real plan or structure in place. And quite honestly, we were surprised by the number of submissions and the quality of the work. So we kept the contest open for as long as the followers seemed to want it. And then the voting stage was a couple of weeks.

Would you do it again?

Not only do we plan to do something like this again, but we have plans with the next film to try and engage the audience even more in the screenwriting process and even casting and location scouting and wardrobe as well. We are thinking about contests in all of those areas.

What would you do differently if you were to do it all over again?

Not a thing.

This post originally appeared on Hope for Film.


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