6 Tips for Producing a Successful Brand-Funded Film

Jordan Kelley, Content Director, BrandStorytelling.tv



On the heels of producing three successful films under the UM Studios banner and having just launched Mediabrands Content Studio and indie development and production entity TRAVERSE32, Mediabrands Global Chief Content Officer Brendan Gaul sat down with BrandStorytelling.tv Co-Founder and Director Rick Parkhill to discuss the steps he takes to successfully shepherd a brand-funded film from development to distribution.


The following are six key takeaways from Gaul and Parkhill’s conversation that demystify the machinations of the brand-funded filmmaking process and, when adhered to, can drastically increase the odds of a brand-funded film’s overall success:



Your film is not an advertisement that entertains, its entertainment that (ultimately) advertises.

Brands looking to make a film must start with the reality that the filmmaking model does not naturally fit within the quarterly business cycles by which brands operate. From the jump, it takes a different mindset, patience, and an understanding of long-term value and payoff to get into the brand-funded film game. This means keeping an eye on the entire process and shooting for film-industry quality at each level, from concept to production to distribution. When all is said and done, your film should be a new product that, when it goes market, halos and drives to your core product, all while entertaining rather than interrupting the life of your new consumer.


Lean into your strengths, seek support for your weaknesses.

Although brands are typically well equipped and adept at handling content development and packaging, production, and post-production, ultimately it is in the areas of early film workshopping, financing, and the sale of the film where brands’ efforts can fall flat. This is due in large part to the fact that those steps, critical as they may be to the filmmaking process, are not a part of the traditional ad-making process. It is imperative to seek out and work with individuals or teams whose expertise lies in those weaker areas for the film to come together at the ideation, production, and distribution levels of the process.


Your film’s premise is your north star.

There are an untold number of decisions that need to be made when it comes to making a film. As a brand, it is massively helpful at the earliest stages of the filmmaking process to establish your film’s premise, or the essence of what the audience will feel and understand about your film when it’s complete. This simple concept will allow you to retain focus at every additional step of the process, simply by asking the question “does the choice that currently needs to be made function in service of or take away from the film’s premise?” Before all else, workshop a premise, write it in stone, and use it to guide all other steps required to make the film.


At the end of the day, everyone’s name goes in the credits.

Unlike the transactional acquisition of a director for a traditional ad, making a film is much more like a group project; you’re not just working to do the best job you can for yourself, you’re doing the best you can in service of the other group members, and expect them to do their best as well. Films, with their long gestation period, live long lives, meaning the people involved in directing, producing, and selling them put a lot on the line in pursuit of a great result. It is a brand’s responsibility to the filmmakers, producers, and financiers that they involve in their endeavor to come to the table with strong ideas and pursue strong members of the filmmaking community to execute on those ideas.


Aim for your film to outperform its cost.

Many in the C-suite ask, “how will we recoup what we’re paying to make a film?” The answer is to seek sold distribution. By adhering to all previous steps, your brand has the potential to be on track to produce a truly quality film. With the right sales partner, and an eye on submitting your film to major festivals, you can take the making of your brand film beyond a simple “paid media” qualification and into a “new product” qualification. Your film doesn’t have to be a sunk cost, but rather something that can advertise, earn, and create brand lift all at once. And although the nature of the film business is one where no sale is guaranteed, ultimately, if you have a quality film that for whatever reason doesn’t get sold, you still have the option to qualify it as paid media, self-distribute, and still achieve two out of three of the film’s goals.


Seek premium distribution from day one.

Avoid a major mistake made by many brands who rush to make films and put the cart before the horse; that is, from the outset, you must keep your eyes on the prize, which is quality distribution. The film needs to be made with the intention to be sold to a leading distributor. That means that it is critical, at all stages, to treat the film like a piece of entertainment before anything else. Streaming services, movie channels, and top-level distributors are not in the advertising business – they don’t want anything to do with a “film” that’s just a long commercial. At the end of the day, your film must be able to stand alongside other films.


Taking the approach suggested by these six tips will increase a brand’s potential to yield films that are treated as just that – films. Clearing that bar, difficult as it may be, pays dividends in the form of coverage in the press, amplification through critical reviews, and connecting with a broader audience then one could ever reach with ads alone. Adhere to each of these practices, and your brand can become a successful and integral part of the entertainment ecosystem.


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