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Filmmakers Set The Scene For Successful Storytelling

This article is part of our July series about the state of media and entertainment. Click here for more.

Branded content is now increasingly recognised by companies everywhere as a valuable way to interact with their customers. Faith in this type of content is a reflection of consumer attitudes: Research commissioned by Forbes found that brand recall is 59% higher for branded content, and consumers are 14% more likely to seek out more content from the brands after a single exposure to branded content.

One element of branded content that companies are still getting comfortable with is video, as this is still a relatively nascent area of marketing for some brands. So who better to advise marketers looking to call “action” on content than directors and creatives from the world of film? CMO.com spoke to some of the best in the business to get their take on how to resonate with audiences.

Create Authentic Experiences
Describing the search for truth as her “life’s work,” Jessica Fox, whose autobiographical film, “The Tale,” earned rave reviews at this year’s Sundance Festival, sees authenticity as vital to her craft and creating content that people will engage with.

“My whole effort in filmmaking is about authenticity and about getting to the truth,” she told CMO.com. “It’s a matter of representing the truth moment to moment, which is about the authenticity of the acting and how the actors are really being in the moment.”

“In the moment” is key for audiences, too. “It’s about asking, how do you bring somebody into the present? How do you make them arrive and be here now? And that’s something I’m doing as a director all the time,” she said.

Fox’s desire to create authenticity is matched by consumer hunger to enjoy honest relationships with brands. In the “2018 Edelman Trust Barometer,” nearly seven in 10 respondents said that building trust is the No. 1 job for CEOs, ahead of high-quality products and services.

The same research shows the clear advantage branded content enjoys over traditional advertising, finding that 60% of respondents do not believe that the latter is based on factual information.

Engage The Audience’s Brain
Debra Granik, director of “Leave No Trace” and “Winter’s Bone,” said she likes to make her audience do some of the work, seeing it as an important tool to keep them engaged.

“I don’t connect all the dots,” she said. “In the films I treasure from other filmmakers, I like to be thinking. I like to be saying, ‘I wonder … what makes a person do that? Why?’”

She added: “Wonderment is a place I like to cultivate and bring people to. I don’t mean the kind that leaves you strung out and annoyed. I just mean the kind that is engaging your mind as a co-storyteller.”

Another director determined to challenge cinema-goers is Ari Aster, whose film “Hereditary” has been called “a new generation’s ‘The Exorcist.’” He explained: “I feel that audiences come to horror films with certain expectations. I was concerned with making sure that I was setting up formulas that I wanted to subvert and play with, to hopefully shock the audience out of that complacency.”

Directors’ instincts are backed up once again by consumer opinion. Reuters Plus research found that people consider sponsored content most appealing if it is thought-provoking (64%), scoring higher than imaginative (58%), humorous (55%), and innovative (51%).

Choose The Right Platform
Charlotte Regan’s short films have been shortlisted by the British Film Institute, BAFTA, and the Toronto Film festival, among others. She said she sees the matching of content and platform as a crucial component to helping her films achieve maximum impact.

“With my shorts it always depends on the style of them. I know if something will play better to a festival audience vs. an online audience,” she said. “When I am releasing online, in the back of my mind I'll know which platforms really suit the piece.”

In addition, Regan will further tweak her work to ensure it has the greatest chance to resonate with her chosen audience. “I often shorten my work for online release even if they have been well-received at festivals, as I think our attention span with online work differs so much from when we’re inside a cinema,” she said.

Research commissioned by CNN syncs with Regan’s approach to content distribution. It shows that consumers prefer to see human-interest, corporate social responsibility brand narratives in a news environment, whereas, on health and lifestyle channels, they want to see recipes and educational information.

Above all, of course, your content has to tell a story. Regan explained: “I think often some of the work I struggle to connect with is work that has been made with the intention of cutting through the noise instead of being made with the intention of telling a great story.”

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