With the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) coming to a close after another year of soaring highs and crushing lows, we take a look at what lessons the startup community can learn from this staple of the film world. After all, there are likely a few important lessons every small business can take from one of the film world’s premiere festivals.
The cast & crew
Your business will live and die by its team. Whether a budding startup or a film project, the final product is a sum of its parts; and the parts are only as good as their creator. Build your team with a mix of proven industry professionals and young talent worth investing in. The director, their dedicated producing team, the cinematographer, sound engineers, boom operators, as well as the cast, everyone should have a responsibility and dedication to the overall success of the project. Investors are buying into your team, so they’ll want to have confidence in your ability to execute before putting money down.
The product – much like the script – serves as a simple guiding idea upon which everything else is built. It’s building that idea and making it a reality that’s truly the hard part. Rarely does a script rise above its competitors without going against the status quo; similarly, a business needs an exceptional product. In order to gain the attention of customers, you need to have a unique business model, an awe-inducing product, or solve a “bleeding from the neck” type of pain. Your customer has to need your product.
Much like a script, your product idea should not be restricted to current trends. By challenging your customers to move outside of their comfort zone you can reinvent an industry. There are numerous examples of recent startups that have fundamentally changed an industry (see Airbnb, Uber). Remember: a safe script it not necessarily an acclaimed one.
Let’s look at the wave of popularity that Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan brought as it rode through TIFF with critical acclaim. Not only did the strange ballet thriller seem impossible to shoot, Aronofsky’s casting of American sweethearts Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman further raised eyebrows from early skeptics. Then the film saw the light of day and sold out a number of screenings at the festival. After a sweep of awards for Portman, countless nominations for the film, and a staggering $329 million worldwide box office haul, Black Swan proved that a script that strays so far from the norm – while being helmed by a fiercely creative and passionate leader (in this case, Aronofsky) – can become absolutely memorable (and very profitable).
Every September, hundreds of filmmakers arrive at TIFF with fever dreams of fat paychecks and Oscar nominations dancing in their heads. Some are already riding that sweet wave of hype for one reason or another (be it from a well-received review at an earlier festival or that guaranteed cockiness that accompanies big-name stars and A-list producers). Others sneak in under-the-radar with barely a murmur of hype, only to leave the festival as the Next Big Thing. Yet for every Silver Linings Playbook or Whale Rider, there are countless other TIFF selections that simply vanish once the festival wraps. This is almost a perfect mirror of the tech media and conference circuit that each startup faces.
The “social proof” is in the pudding. In an era where trailers, teasers, and exclusive premieres are industry standard; films and startups must stretch their product’s hype.
Just look at 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, the sleeper hit of 2008 which took the People’s Choice Award at TIFF. After TIFF the film went on to gain more momentum on the festival circuit before landing 10 Oscar nominations (and an unprecedented 8 wins) including Best Picture. An instant classic and proof that a winning product doesn’t need to be taken too seriously. Word of mouth – particularly when leveraged through social media – can catapult your business to success.
The red carpet, press junket, critics, and adoring fans
Have you ever seen a red carpet where the stars didn’t look put together, seeping with confidence? Of course not, it’s all part of the sell. Your business needs to exude confidence. Proudly showcasing testimonials, media coverage, awards and user numbers are a few of the ways you can show that you’re a brand worthy of a customer’s dollars.
An often overlooked facet of business, that Tinsel Town has nailed down, is that people are more likely to respond to a likable personality who speaks clearly and knowledgeably. First impressions are everything, so make sure you are prepared with proper media training and key messaging. When the opportunity for press arises, you want to be ready.
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