Sparking Film Impact Innovation in Times Of Crisis

By Amy Shepherd and Danielle Turkov Wilson

COVID-19 is shaking the world. As the pandemic continues to upend our lives and economies, every global industry is taking stock and re-evaluating positions – and the film industry is no exception. With cinemas closed, productions shut down and festivals barred from meeting in person, directors, producers and distributors are all having to consider afresh how to share content and engage audiences.

In this enormously challenging time, impact is more important than ever. People everywhere are searching for stories that offer meaning, hope and a connection to something important. While the grief and loss around and ahead of us is not to be underestimated, creative visual industries have a unique chance to spur the world on simply by doing what they do best – being different, innovative and inspiring. 

Integrate impact into online screening opportunities

With instant online streaming, visual media are increasingly accessible from homes transformed into strange new meshes of workplaces, schools and community hubs. Captive populations from young to old, suddenly finding themselves indefinitely stuck indoors, are looking for tele-visual content to entertain, distract and learn. While this new stasis might in some cases sap energy, it could also catalyse action on important social issues. 

Filmmakers leaning into digital technology can engage with audiences in fresh ways. Alternate and Virtual Reality may well continue their surge in popularity as we try to escape from unaccustomed confinements. Social platforms and tech can be used to motivate audiences to participate in impact campaigns at the prime moments of opportunity: during film screenings and immediately after, catching people while emotions run and the credits roll.

Opportunities for innovation are also beckoning us at a larger scale. The big screen might have gone small, but festivals not yet ready to turn off the lights are already successfully turning to digital tech to facilitate virtual screenings and meetings. CPH:DOX ran the first wave of what will undoubtedly be a long-lasting new trend of online panels and pitch sessions, rescuing an unprecedented crisis, extending the festival’s reach and taking it to new extraordinary realms of impact. 1,700 people around the world joined our “iHuman” discussion with NSA Whistleblower, Edward Snowden, making this the festival’s most-watched conversation. 

For us at Think-Film, this is a sign of the possibility this crisis holds to try something new. If we wish to emerge from this time better and stronger, then now is the time to energise, strategise and spark change.

Achieve impact through alternative means

Film can really make a difference. Connecting the right person with the right story in the right way can spark entire movements. By curating interesting new content, by considering the different needs of virtual audiences and experimenting with ways of making remote screenings and events more vibrant, interactive and personal, by driving forward secure means for high-level figures to access film material, and by pushing for innovations in professional digital networking and business, filmmakers, sales agents and producers can pivot now to kickstart a whole new industry. 

Impact methods also don’t need to be entirely new to radically change situations. A lot can already be achieved without face-to-face meetings. At Think-Film we use parliament mechanisms, petitions, public letters, social media activities, webinars with extended film clips and a whole host of other activities to give films the impact they deserve. During quarantine and beyond, impact that uses film as a tool for corporate training or political advocacy to governments and decision-makers can help build word-of-mouth interest, secure its recognition and provide a platform. These impact methods create real measurable added-value and change.

Relish the power of data

Box office figures are down but data is up. Elevated network usage is leading to an extreme demand for content. Online “events” such as watch parties and live comment broadcasts are vital for filmmakers in a separated society to connect with audiences, and, for example, learn what people think about a trailer or other promo material. 

Online distribution and impact moments also provide more and more instantaneous information, insight and feedback to filmmakers than in-person events ever have or could. This is of great benefit to creators wanting to understand how their content is resonating in markets. Digital streaming and social solutions are providing filmmakers with new levels of access to direct audience feedback, including metadata analysis, which can transform the film industry’s connectivity by enabling iterative honing of marketing and targeting.

At Think-Film, we’re constantly working on new ways to measure impact and demonstrate its added value to film development, production, post-production, marketing and distribution at every stage. Data advances every part of the industry. It’s easy to see how instant content selection opportunities can show grouped demands for particular film genres, languages and forms; data that can shuffle valuable landing page slots and social promos. But take this one step further, and data can start to truly revolutionise supply by feeding backwards through the chain, informing even initial production selections and budget allocations.

Embrace film’s impactful future

Think-Film’s mission is to take film outside of its usual settings and drive socio-political impact forward by doing things differently. We’re used to taking people out of their comfort zone and proposing creative ideas that shake it all up. This pandemic hasn’t changed that, but it’s pushing even us to the edge of ingenuity and resilience. We’re being stretched and moulded, like everyone else, and welcome the opportunity that brings.

At some stage, cinemas will reopen. That hallowed projector light will shine again. But to survive until then we all need to adapt. And from top to bottom, the film industry will  change, we hope for good, as a result of this time. Moves towards virtual solutions were already in the pipeline, and in many ways, the extreme restrictions we’re all now working under has simply accelerated the eventual global restructuring that would ultimately always have taken place.  

We have high expectations of how the film industry can thrive both through and post-COVID-19. We also know that impact has a critical role to play in the future. We urge everyone: put impact at the heart of film and give it focus. This will create space for compelling stories, build markets for films and offer a chance for us all to thrive.