John is an example of loving the industry of media and entertainment and thinking he’d work in one aspect of the business that didn’t work out. He found a niche in which many of his talents, skills and training came together and played a huge part for his eventual success in the industry. Listen to his wisdom and insights on marketing a film or project.
Jonathan Bock (bio): is the founder and president of Grace Hill Media. Mr. Bock began his career in publicity at Warner Bros. Prior to that, he was a sitcom writer, widely regarded throughout the industry as “not very good.” Mr. Bock serves on the board of Reel Spirituality at Fuller Theological Seminary and is a deacon at Bel Air Presbyterian Church. The father of two beautiful daughters, he’s married to his first wife, Kelly. He also, with a few warm-up frames, can consistently bowl in the low nineties.
JB : “I went to Connecticut College, and I was a religion major. I only was a religion major because I was in it for the chicks. (laughs) No, no, no, not true. I was a religion major because I had a high school teacher tell me to take a major that makes you think and write and is outside your comfort zone a little bit, because two years after you graduate you really won’t remember any of what you learned in the first place. So it’s really the process of thinking and writing that’s the important stuff. I had no aspiration beyond getting a diploma to use my religion degree for anything. As a matter of fact I moved back to Los Angeles to be a sitcom writer.
I really stumbled into this as a business. I happened, in the late 90’s, to break up with my writing partner. And while I was figuring out what I wanted to do next, be it write by myself, not write comedy, write drama instead, I got a job in the publicity department at Warner Brothers Studio just to hang my hat. It was an easy job with an easy boss and it gave me plenty of time to write if I wanted to during the day. While I was there we had some films that were coming out and I said to my bosses, boy, I think people who go to church would really like these. Their response to me was, “Great, let’s find them! Let’s find the people who are marketing to them, and we’ll hire them.” Well, we looked all over the place and there wasn’t anybody marketing to this group of people.
That was 1998 and it made the entrepreneurial light go off for me. I started doing research on if this was a sustainable idea. Were there enough churches and enough media outlets to even warrant something like this? I found that there were literally hundreds of thousands of churches and thousands of religious media outlets, so there definitely was. I put together a proposal and asked them to let me leave and then hire me back as a consultant, and they said “OK!” Grace Hill Media was born.
I think story, is still very important, but making a movie is only half of the equation. It now costs almost as much to market a movie as it does to make a movie. So let’s say you’ve made a really great film but you still have to get it to market. Making a good movie is very important, but if you’re not thinking about how this movie is going to be marketed or who the audience is for the movie, what the elements are that are going to get them excited to pay 10 bucks of their hard earned money to see your movie, and leave their house on a cold rainy night to go see the thing, then you’re stupid.
Frankly, I’m less shocked that artists and filmmakers aren’t thinking about that. I’m far more distressed that high net worth Christians who are paying to make these movies aren’t asking some of the distribution and marketing questions before they fork over a check for 500 thousand dollars, 5 million dollars or 20 million dollars. It’s pretty amazing to me that men and women who have made sound business decisions in other arenas like selling tires, spark plugs, Vipers, or whatever it is that they made their money in, that all of their business acumen goes out the door when comes to movies.
For every dollar I put into production I should be thinking about that much in marketing. Even if that doesn’t turn out evenly, it is a much smarter way for men and women to start thinking about when they want to make a movie. Remember that marketing is as important as the production itself.
One of the things that I’m constantly pressing my own staff for is to be more creative, to come up with ideas. We have lots of meetings where we pitch out a lot of bad ideas, but I’ll take bad ideas over no ideas any day of the week. Sometimes bad ideas lead to good ideas, and you say, No, no, no that idea won’t work, but what if we did this instead? It spurs people on. So if you’re not an idea person or a creative writer and thinker, this is probably not your world.
There are probably two very important qualities you have to have to be marketer. The first one is that you have to be fairly articulate. You have to be able to convince people of things. You’re on the frontlines of getting good press coverage or convincing magazines or newspapers or whoever that you’re talking to that this is a movie they need to see. You have to be able to sell sand to the Saudis! If you don’t have that quality this is probably not the gig for you.