This thesis explores the first iteration of iFeatures, a grant-aided low budget production scheme in Bristol, UK, from 2009 – 2014. The scheme encouraged and trained filmmakers to develop digital marketing and distribution strategies to enable the three feature films, In the Dark Half (2012), Flying Blind (2013) and 8 Minutes Idle (2014) to compete in the market place against bigger budgeted films. Little original research on low budget marketing and distribution has been carried out which this thesis attempts to rectify. The research captured a specific period in history in which digital marketing and distribution was regarded by the UK Film Council (UKFC) and other stakeholders as techniques that would allow the low budget sector to find its audience, and overcame the century-long problems of how to sustain indigenous feature film production.
The research findings are based on multiple data sources that collectively fill a gap in original research. Unprecedented access was obtained to major stakeholders including the iFeatures creative teams, BBC Films, the UKFC, sales agents and distributors. The in-depth interviews uncovered motivations and attitudes to marketing and these were analysed using Pierre Bourdieu’s framework (1986, 1996, 2001, 2003). In a separate chapter, conceptual approaches underpinning digital marketing and distribution, and the emerging strategies are also analysed. The three films are presented as case studies to show how each film adopted different strategies using digital and traditional marketing techniques. These case studies drew on unique data which captured the impact and scope of the online marketing, and over a thousand surveys from cinemagoers which showed the relative persuasiveness of both digital and traditional marketing.
The thesis argues that iFeatures’ objectives were not achieved. Training filmmakers to become marketers did not account for their attitudinal dissonance nor the importance of symbolic capital. Also, coherent marketing strategies were lacking that understood and deployed the principles of marketing and emerging paradigms and logics. The case studies showed that digital marketing is only effective for defined audiences and when manipulated by expert personnel, and that traditional techniques should not be ignored. These results suggest that, as the commercial returns are so small, low budget filmmaking should exist to take creative risks and to develop talent and that its future may best be supported within a television business model.
Tarrant-Willis, T. Finding an audience: Evaluating the production and marketing of low budget British films in the iFeatures production scheme, 2009 - 2014. (Thesis). University of the West of England