Monday 30 July 2007

How do we measure success?

by Ronnie Apteker

Two years ago South Africa’s imagination was captured by something called Crazy Monkey’s Straight Outta Benoni. A full length feature film which created a lot of hype and set a massive expectation. Well, the chips are down and the numbers are in. That youth comedy sold just over 200,000 cinema tickets. Not a bad first attempt but not nearly enough to cover the film’s budget. The end result was a financial loss. Many hard lessons were learned and a lot of soul searching was the result.

Looking back now, I would give that movie about a 4 out of 10. It certainly was brave, eccentric, innovative, original and unusual. It truly was a labour of love and it came from a good place. But sometimes in life what we start out to do, with all the best intentions, doesn’t always end up the way you had hoped. We were aiming for a 10 out of 10, but we missed the boat somewhere. And the audience that embraced the Benoni film gave us a clear message: we had not delivered.

Winston Churchill once said that success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. So, two years later and we are back. With a different team of people, a radical new approach and a clearer vision. And an abundance of enthusiasm. The new colourful youth comedy is called Footskating 101 and we are very happy with the film. The budget came down, drastically, and the marketing campaign this time round will be more targeted and clear on its message.

We made the new film on high-definition digital, a huge cost saving over expensive Kodak film. And we shot the movie with a handful of crew. Benoni had over one hundred crew members. The new film, which was shot on the West Rand this time, was made with a handful of people. I was one of the crew. We laid down a set of house rules which we circulated to everyone who came on board. It was a simple, no nonsense approach. There was no catering, no portable toilets, no trailers, no frills, no attitude. What there was, was a stronger sense of purpose, an overwhelming humility, and increased passion, and a bunch of artists that were very hungry. The film is now complete and we have done some extensive audience testing. The sense I am getting is that we have moved up to a 6 or maybe even a 7 out of 10. That makes me very happy. Finally, some growth.

Yes, it is still a crazy, silly movie. The name says it all, “Footskating”. But it has far greater heart than before. It is a more honest piece of work and we hope that this time, the expectations we create with our marketing campaign will be more precise.

The Benoni film’s marketing drive started at the beginning of 2005. It went on for 9 months and the Monkey was everywhere. It certainly was a relentless and pervasive campaign and it had a lot of imagination behind it. The Footskating marketing blitz, on the other hand, will be a lot more focused. It officially kicks off this August and will run for 2 months. The new campaign is simpler, but bigger. By simpler I mean more direct, more straight forward, more clear. And by bigger, I mean more creative and far more innovative.

5FM have come on board again as our main marketing partner. The movie is branded as a 5FM project. For all intents and purpose, it looks as if 5FM made the movie. This is going to be great for the radio station, especially because the film is a big step up from the last one. In the new movie we have a lot of 5FM branding (product placement) as well as some very clever cameos by some of the nation’s favourite disc jockeys. 5FM will get many kudos for the film and we are hoping to forge an even stronger relationship from our efforts here. Of course, the film itself gets a national broadcaster to help promote it.

We learnt many valuable lessons on the Benoni marketing road-show. Poster signing, for example, is a highly cost-effective mechanism and we are printing 20,000 posters that will be utilized on campus tours, mall visits, cinema campaigns, music store displays, etc. And the new poster is really brilliant. We all stood around staring at it as it came from the printer and we were overwhelmed. It just hits all the right notes and we are confident that every youngster will want an autographed poster. This is such an effective vehicle for promotion. Every teenager, for example, that puts up a poster in their bedroom or classroom etc. becomes a billboard for the movie. And it will reach the target audience.

Handing out T-shirts is always cool. Everyone loves getting a funky new hip T-shirt. But a good quality T-shirt costs around R50 to make. A poster costs less than R2. So, we are doing more with posters and less with T-shirts. Yes, there will be a range of stunning Footskating T-shirts from Puma, but again it will be focused and more strategic and tactical in its usage than just for the sake of handing them out where ever there is a crowd.

We are creating a stack of big vinyl banners to hang up in the cinemas across the country. The cost of making a vinyl banner is around R600. To make, say, 40 big bright banners is not that prohibitive from a Rands and cents point of view. The exposure these banners provide, to the key cinema going population, is for more focused and effective when compared to the cost of putting up a roadside billboard for example. There is no monthly real estate cost for putting up banners in a cinema. This is what the theatres are keen to do. It is what they need to do to attract an audience. They do it for all the big Hollywood studio movies, and they do it for local films too. Yes, it is exciting to see a big billboard up on the side of the road, that is advertising your labour of love movie, but it is expensive. And it is not that targeted. We can’t wait to get those banners up. Comes mid August you will be seeing them everywhere. Oh, yes, before I forget, we do in fact have a bunch of roadside billboards going live for the month of September. On the Benoni film we had billboards up for months and months. This time it is for one month; the month of release. Smaller, and more precise.

Probably the most innovative aspect of the new campaign is a tie up we have done with Fanta. All I can say is that when you see this you are going to be inspired. The thing I want to point out about this particular aspect, is that it did not happen over night. Nothing about the making of this movie or its marketing happened quickly. A lot of time and effort has been invested in this journey and everything we have done on the marketing side has been proactive. We have not waited for the phone to ring. We have been building bridges since the first word was put on paper when we started writing the story over 2 years ago. The secret to our marketing campaign, and to life in general, is to be as proactive as humanly possible.

The music in the new movie is really solid this time round. And it is all South African. We are having a ball working with EMI on the CD which hits the stores mid August. We are expecting it to not only sell well, but also, to create more heat for the film. A key consideration here is that we are not calling it a soundtrack, but rather, “The Footskater’s Rock Compilation”. Compilations get far more profile than soundtracks. Soundtracks get buried in the soundtrack section of a CD store; a rock compilation, on the other hand, not only sounds more exciting, but it gets higher priority.

Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same over and over and expecting a different result. I have been involved in 8 film productions over the past 7 years and this last one, the Footskating adventure, has been the best. We did things differently, radically differently, and the end result is already a success from my perspective. We came in on budget, on time, and with greater alignment in the small team. This to me is fundamental. Everything in life is about people. People are what make the difference. You only ever invest in people; not in business plans or movie scripts. From my perspective this was the best film investment I have made to date. I invested in good people and they brought me a lot of joy and they inspired me.

Brendan Jack, Thomas “187” Ferreira, Tendeka Matatu and I were together on the Benoni film. We all did everything we could to make that one work but we got it right this time round. That is what our hearts our telling us. The new film looks great too, which is incredible considering the budget, etc. You need to understand though that we needed the Benoni journey; we needed the hard and painful lessons. There is no progress without struggle. We could not have done the new movie the way we did if we had not had that last experience.