‘Come Play’. 

As traditional paths to funding and achieving audience engagement change and diversify, executive producer and founder of Candid Films Jo Austin argues that filmmakers shouldn’t turn up their noses at brand partnerships. 

At a time when producers, directors and filmmakers have never needed to be more entrepreneurial, brands are implementing social content as a major part of their overall marketing strategy.

To ignore the investment potential that can be provided through brand funding is a missed opportunity, especially as government-funded initiatives are now so competitive – and out of reach for many.

The perception that brands will cheapen or interfere with a project appear to be now out-dated, as we’ve seen brands fund film projects without any intervention on set or in the edit suite.

Over the last 12 years as commercial producer in Sydney with a keen interest in film, I’ve personally witnessed a transition in brand briefs. Brands now have a strong focus on connecting with audiences via storytelling. Due to the branded content revolution we have all witnessed over the last six or so years, brands already know that they no longer their need logos and products front and centre, because connecting with their customers via a shared value is actually the most important tool available to them.

The doors are now being opened for filmmakers and brands to work together and form mutually beneficial partnerships. Over the last two years we have delivered two film projects that have been fully-funded by a brand, and have more projects in development, some of which will be fully-funded and some will be part funded by brands.

Of those completed, Come Play is a short film that was commissioned by QT Hotels, and 1 to 38 – The Jarryd Hayne Story is a feature documentary commissioned by Telstra. In both cases we worked with the brands’ creative agency.

So how do you deliver on your creative vision and making the investment worthwhile for a brand?

The key is to find the shared value, because if consumers care, brands care. These shared values could be the consumer movement generated from the hugely successful ABC series War on Waste, mental health, sport or aspirational travel. Once you have identified the key value your project communicates, it’s about aligning with a brand also communicating in this space.

In 2016 we were fortunate enough to complete our Jarryd Hayne documentary purely because a shared value had arisen between the brand and the consumer. Earlier, on the eve of signing what would have been the biggest NRL contract ever offered to a player, dual Dally M winner, Jarryd Hayne, held a press conference to announce he was going leave Australia and move to the USA to attempt a new career in the NFL, despite having never played a single game. The rugby world was floored – and so were the fans. To cut a long story short, he made it, and against all odds he became a Running Back for the San Francisco 49ers. As a sponsor of the NRL, Telstra had a vested interest in bringing the sports story of the decade to their customers. Without them, Hayne’s journey – a story relevant to many Australians – would not have been documented.

Once a shared value has been established, it’s important to consider the business decisions that will make your project to appeal to a brand’s needs, and what you can and can’t deliver as a filmmaker.

The majority of deliverables required by a brand will likely be in the digital space outside of the original script, such as talent Instagram posts or behind-the-scenes clips for Facebook or YouTube. The value of these deliverables is measurable, and that monetary investment for digital is what will essentially fund the long form filmmaking process. You can have multiple non-competing brands benefitting digitally from one project.

Business decisions are possible in the creative side too without detriment to the project. When director Jonathan Pease was developing Come Play he cast actress Charlotte Best (Home & Away, Puberty Blues, Soul Mates) in the lead role. Charlotte was not only perfect for the role, but she also happens to have a significant Instagram following that aligned with the QT Hotel’s target audience – access to her followers and the social content alone more than satisfied the needs of the brand on this occasion. Without the short film, they would not have been able to benefit from the social media it generated.

From observation, brands have little interest in pulling apart that script you’ve been working on for a decade, or in having an overbearing creative input throughout the filming or editing process. So you might want to ask yourself how your project could benefit a brand with the same shared values, what deliverables could be offered, and would a casting decision between one actor and another actually make a world of difference?

In the two film brand-funded film projects we have experienced, we delivered the films without any brand intervention into the filmmaking process, because it seems that ultimately the need for longevity, access to talent and a continued source of narrative about a shared value is what drives them. It’s about time filmmakers capitalised on that.

This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #180 December-January. 

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