Op-Ed

HOW TO COMMUNICATE YOUR AUTHENTIC VOICE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Sheree L. Ross @womenfilmofcolr.jpg

by Sheree L. Ross

Nov. 10, 2017

As a creative I find it difficult sometimes to always know how to communicate my authentic voice through social media, and I see other creators struggling with the same thing. There are so many different platforms to post on, not to mention the time I need to dedicate to my own work, and then there is the fact that I don’t want to come across as just trying to sell my wares. The whole social media game can be quite daunting, and yet in this day and age we all have to take the time to figure out how to convey what we create in a way that communicates it to our potential clients or customers. That is, if we want to do what we love to do all day and pay the bills. What we offer on these platforms needs to stay authentic to us as well as tell a story about us. It is no longer just about selling somebody something. It is no longer about just getting on the right or current social media platform, or sending out emails. Today’s artists are entrepreneurs and we need to start thinking about building long-term relationships with our audiences. But how? Who’s got time to create and think of ways to market and brand themselves, particularly since most artists don’t like boxes that are so easily recognized and commodified. But, if we want to create a sustainable career for ourselves, we need to start allowing ourselves to think this way.

One of the first ways to do this is to understand what the larger population is trained to ask – what promise are you making to us as an artist? Consumers (our audience and clients) are programmed to think this way after decades of being marketed to and the smartest way in, sometimes, is to use tools that are easily recognized. Since most of us create in more than one medium it’s okay to let each project speak for itself. Each project is created with its own promise or problem to present or solve. Asking these kinds of questions gives you a way to speak to a larger audience in a clear and focused manner. Use the answers to find communities of like minded people to tell your story. It will also help give you a clearer idea of ways to market your projects in all areas, with intentions of connecting people to your work.

Most creative people I know don’t like to think of themselves as a brand unless they have elevated themselves to the realms of a Beyoncé or Rihanna. But even these creatives craft what we consume of their art and selves. Most creatives are not at that level, many don’t want to be, and for those who do it is a strategic climb to get there. As an creative entrepreneur one must always be true to oneself. Thinking about how much money a project is going to make from the outset will more often than not dilute the impact that it will have. The next step is sometimes the hardest. It is about putting your authentic, vulnerable self out into the world as you create. If you are speaking your truth through your art then you are putting little bits of yourself into the world through your social media and marketing. Social media has made it cheap and easy for anyone around the globe to have access to your work. Being shy about your work, waiting for perfection, or procrastinating will not serve your bank account, or your ability to continue doing what you love with maximum freedom. It takes time to build an audience, so if you haven’t started, if you are not on any social media, or haven’t posted in a month or so, it is time to start, with regularity. If you are a creative just starting out you must build your audiences in real ways that connect you in person as well as build a following on social media. If you are a seasoned creative then it is about giving the audience you already have a place to enjoy your new creations, build a community, as well as provide a place for your followers to get in on the conversation and feel like a part of your larger community (as well as buy your creations).

No matter what, you have to start. Building a following is key. What about you is unique and authentic to you? It is important that creatives utilize these inexpensive platforms to impact the world and get their message out into the world. You don’t need to overwhelm yourself. Start with one platform and do it well. Find the social media platform that will work best for what you create and who you are as a person. Twitter works great for my business of supporting women filmmakers of color (@womenfilmofcolr), but for my personal business of being a filmmaker and writer – creating a Facebook page has worked better for me. Don’t be discouraged, have fun with it, be consistent, and let social media be another part of how you connect and communicate your artistry to the world.

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Disrupting Hollywood

by Sheree L. Ross

Over a hundred thousand scripts will be written in 2017, as well as tens of thousands of independent films made. Hundreds of contests will be entered and most filmmakers will not move very far towards their goal of a distribution deal or theatrical release.
What once seemed like the “impossible dream” has now almost become a thing of the past.  Yet, so many filmmakers go forward as they make their films like the magical payday myths of the industry still, if ever existed.
Most distribution deals and all of Hollywood have created an accounting system where only they get paid and the creative winds up with accolades (hopefully) but empty pockets. Crowdfunding has been a big move forward to help mitigate the ever shrinking traditional access to funds but after a film is made the blue print to a sustainable business model is rarely understood. It is especially hard for women and women filmmakers of color, where financing a film can be a Herculean event – as well as finding access to, and building an audience large enough to not only pay cast, crew, and themselves but make enough to distribute it and then do it all over again.
The industry has changed even for Hollywood. This change began decades ago but was solidified when the markets crashed in 2008, and demystified with access unprecedented with digital cameras, the internet, and streaming platforms. This is a new and ever more inclusive frontier yet so many indie filmmakers still structure their business model like it’s the 1970’s – still believing in the big payoff yet never realizing that filmmakers getting paid on the net receipts has been an inside myth perpetuated by industry media to entertain the public and string along hopeful filmmakers since time began.
The power of the industry is shifting but the new paradigm must be created by the independent filmmakers themselves. Big business has always had too much of a say and taken all of the profits. We, as creatives, are the reason they have built fortunes, mostly because we have wanted others to take care of the business while we concentrate on the creative. The other truth of many creatives is we haven’t developed the emotional and mental stamina for the business side of our filmmaking and have often blindly handed the responsibility over to others. This is a wake up call to build that muscle and take full control of our careers and creations. Owning our IP and figuring out how to distribute in a way that puts the rewards back into our own business is key to growing and maintaining a healthy and striving independent film ecosystem for all of us.

Op-Ed: Riding the Conversation Wave about Diversity

by Sheree L. Ross

All of the diversity talk since the Oscars is a very good thing. Already new production companies are being formed in Hollywood by women deciding to own our narrative, but it will barely be much more than just a conversation unless we see greater action out of studio executives and powers that be, that isn’t just predicated upon the momentum of bad press. 

It is great to see our allies – like high profile filmmaker  J.J. Abrams  and Women Filmmaker’s of Color like Queen Latifah  making concerted efforts to change the paradigms around Hollywood’s overwhelming diversity problem, yet let’s take a second and expand this conversation to include not only what’s going on in Hollywood but the diversity of location.

Diversity thinking (as it relates to our domestic film and television industry) should also start to include filmmakers, production  companies and studios all throughout the United States. This country learned an important lesson a few decades ago about company towns. Detroit and the people who worked for those car companies could never have imagined the long term economic devastation that continues to have withering effects. I believe those who run Hollywood aren’t imagining, nor can fathom, the long-term effects of their blockbuster spending, monopoly mind-set, and narrow parameters around casting, production location and story lines.

With the increasing affordability of making movies and media, the plethora of exhibition platforms and ever increasing media innovations the powers-that-be of Hollywood can’t continue to ignore what is clearly a shifting paradigm. There are so many talented filmmakers who live all over the US by choice or by economics. Many of us don’t want to live in Hollywood for varying reasons, and yet it often feels impossible to think of any levels of success without doing so. And just before you think I am off the subject of diversity, believe me this is a conversation about diversity most of all. Any industry that is disproportionately dominated by white men gathered in one geographic location has a severe diversity problem.

And again, yes, there are waves of change happening in small ways in Hollywood every day. Certainly Channing Dungey, the first black woman to be president of a major network is  an incredible move forward, but it’s 2016, this shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is.

What if Hollywood were to open itself up to be more like other big industries, where it doesn’t demand it be the sole beacon to riches and success? Every actor, producer, director and Broadway wannabe doesn’t have to move to New York to fulfill their dreams of the stage and make a living (it’s a bonus, not a requirement). In fact, there are few industries I can think of that control their product with such a myopic segregationist viewpoint. Even in tech you can live in your parents basement or college dorm, create something and become a billionaire overnight-ish, you don’t have to move to Silicon Valley or Austin in order to thrive. 

I do realize that there are successful companies outside of Hollywood –  Harpo and Troublemaker Studios are at the top of these success stories. But I think most would agree that there is something inherently screwy about a system that has the deck stacked so in favor of just the Hollywood big boys.

It is definitely time for a new paradigm. If those of us in this industry work towards more diversity – in casting, on sets and when writing our screenplays – and stop holding Hollywood as the Mecca to all things film (which ultimately dilutes talent pools in Indie communities) then the economic structures of sustainability and profitability can change. I believe that this could eventually even impact television, which as we all know is nearly an impossible dream unless you want to live in Los Angeles or New York. These shifts in thinking and action will help the economics of filmmaking communities of color, women, LGBT – all independent filmmakers.  Sure, it’s not going to happen overnight, but these conversations are inroads. Let’s continue the conversation but add lots of action, great ideas and solutions so we, as independent filmmakers, can create a diverse and sustainable industry for us all.