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Marketing Your Movie on the Internet

Marketing Your Movie on the Internet

Articles - Directing

The Blair Witch Project on the web.

The Most PowerFul Tool

The internet is by far the most powerful marketing
tool available to the independent producer. It goes without saying
that inde­pendent productions are hopelessly outgunned when contending
with a Hollywood marketing campaign that involves television, magazines,
radio, bill­boards and newspapers. The internet, however, is proving
to be the one form of mass media where your production has a chance
of competing at the same level as a major studio.

In light of recent productions such as The Blair
Witch Project
, web campaigns have taken on a new significance.
According to producer Shawn Furst, the creative force behind
the new feature Everything Put Together, The Blair
Witch Project
was a turning point for marketing independent
films. "Blair Witch proved marketing an indie film
on the internet is viable," Furst said. Although he had
always planned to imple­ment a web campaign for Everything
Put Together
, Furst admits the phenomenal success of Blair
Witch
underscores the importance of internet marketing.

The good news is that creating an effective internet
presence does not mean you need a large staff or budget. In fact,
the internet’s greatest advantage is that a single individual can
create the same foot­print as a Fortune 500 company with a cleverly
designed and executed site. My site, Filmunderground.com, is an
example of a site created by a small staff that com­petes in the
same arena as Kodak and Real Networks. Jacques Thelemaque, president
of Filmmaker’s Alliance in Los Angeles, believes internet marketing
levels the playing field. "Where digital production has democratized
filmmaking opportuni­ties, the internet has democratized distribution
and exhibition opportunities," Jacques said.

Start Early

Although your site can be built in a matter of days,
its important to remember it takes months for the site to blossom
into an effec­tive marketing tool. For this reason, put your site
up as early as possible. If you wait until the film is ready to
distribute, you’ve missed the boat. As a rule of thumb, websites
take six months to mature. In your first three months, you’ll see
very little traffic. In each of the following months, sharp increases
and bursts in activity are typical. Somewhere in the six-month
range, traffic patterns develop consistency and visitor averages
are roughly the same from day to day. This is a sign of maturity
and the result of word-of-mouth and online marketing techniques
to be addressed later in this article. You can now see why it’s
so important to at least have a few simple pages up as soon as
you know your film is going to production.

Get the Right Name

The first step toward building your site is to obtain
your own domain name. (Registering is $70 through www.networksolutions.com).
Always get a ".com" extension (i.e. www.bighit.com).
If you get ".net" or ".org" extension, you’ll
lose untold numbers of vis­itors to whoever has bighit.com. Don’t
use a hyphen or "the" in your domain name, which is a
common mistake for first-timers. Although normally the tendency
is to be consistent in product branding, with the internet you
shouldn’t be afraid to truncate your domain name. Make the domain
name as short as possible so your visitors can easily remember
and enter them.

Build an Email "Member" List

Providing users with a means to submit their email
addresses for updates on your film should be a top priority when
your site first goes up. The email list is more powerful than your
website because you can actively reach those people instead of
waiting for them to visit your site. Be certain to provide fre­quently
updated content to those on the list to maintain interest and encourage
repeat visits. Also, address the list as if it were going out to
a single individual. Giving the appear­ance that you’re doing a
mass mailing to hundreds or thousands of people will work against
you; the personal touch, on the other hand, encourages a feeling
of camaraderie between fan and moviemaker. "Members" on
your email list will be your most loyal supporters and the core
group who will generate the buzz you need for your movie to be
successful. A word of caution about email lists: Do not include
other members of your list in the message header. This not only
ruins the espirit de corps you are cultivating, but also provides
spammers with a list of tar­geted addresses. Plenty of software
programs exist to assist you in managing email lists, and they
are well worth the expense.

Awareness, Content, Updates

The initial content of your site should be the biographies
and pictures of your principals, as well as the premise and possibly
a script treatment. A plethora of sites thrive on news about in-progress
film productions. Many of them invite updates and reports on produc­tions.
Providing information on your project, along with its URL, is a
great way to bring traffic to your site and generate some crucial
early interest. If done properly, you can generate a certain amount
of excitement about your "hot new project" in develop­ment
and possibly draw the interest of equity investors. The recently
completed feature film, Foreign Correspondents, was able
to garner an additional $50,000 from investors who read portions
of the script online and were sufficiently impressed that they
contributed financially to the project, according to Jonathan Fox,
marketing director at Greenstem Production’s. Fox, a former producer
of the Entertainment Tonight online website, was certain about
the role that the internet played in the develop­ment of Foreign
Correspondents
. "Had it not been for the website, the
movie would not have been completed," he said, unequivocally.

Submitting Your URL

The next step in the process is submitting your site’s
URL to the search engines. Although much ado is made about "spoofing," a
technique aimed at boosting a site’s rankings with the search engines,
(spoofing targets key words for prominent placement by search engines
to trick the "spiders" which index your web pages into
ranking you higher) it is a time-consuming process and doesn’t
always prove effective or productive. Your best approach is to
be sure that your page titles and meta-infor­mation are sharp,
concise and relevant to your content.

The Functions of Exchanging Links

At this point, pursue exchanging links with other
websites. A sincere compliment and a polite request is highly effective.
This serves four functions.  The obvious one will be that it will attract
traffic
directly to your site. The second is that, if
you have thorough coverage, it will create the
impression of omnipres­ence. Although a surfer may not click on
the link the first time he or she sees it, but after encountering
it at a dozen other sites, assumptions will be formed about your
reputation and popularity. The third function is similar to the
second but more mechanical, in that you’ll have little control.
Search engines like Altavista, which will bring you the majority
of your traffic, will give you more favorable positioning in
their rankings based on your "popularity," which is determined
by how many sites are linked to yours. Fourth, and most impor­tantly,
you’ll be making an initial contact with the site administrators,
whom you will need to know later in your campaign. In an industry
that thrives on networking, this is your means of gaining essential
support. As an avid user of email, Joel S. Bachar of Blackchair
Productions in Seattle and founder of the Seattle Independent Film
and Video Consortium, knows this law well. "When used effectively,
the internet can be the best tool you have to promote your film," Bachar
said. "And it’s by far the best tool to help you make important
connec­tions both locally and globally."

Use Traffic Monitoring Software

Traffic monitoring software is your most valuable
ally in determining how to build and expand your site as you react
and adapt to your market. Webtrends software is the industry standard
for internet marketers to

analyze server logs, which contain detailed information
about the users that visit your site. Webtrends crunches that data
and pro­vides you with information about your user’s geographic
and electronic origin, your site’s most-requested and least-requested
pages, busiest days of the week, busiest hours of the day, entry
points, exit points and a slew of other data compiled into three-dimensional
graphs. I cannot imagine maintaining a website (or busi­ness) without
this tool.

Foreign Correspondents from Greenstem
Productions.

Keep Journal to Build Interest

Although it will require a certain amount of discipline,
keep a production journal of your film and post it periodi­cally
to your site. A weekly journal entry is the perfect episodic content
for a website that will keep people coming back. Entries can be
updated to your splash (main or default) page, then mir­rored to
the email list. The email should simply be a teaser of the journal
with a link to entice visitors to the site. Don’t be afraid to
be personal in your journal entries. This is a great human interest
hook and will draw repeat visitors to your site.

Depending on how comfortable you are with releasing
information about your pro­duction, scanning storyboards and script
excerpts make great content. If you’re ambi­tious, you may want
to add interviews with cast and crew.  As soon as you move to pro­duction,
gear up your online updates. Add production stills to your site
as soon as they become available. Through my experience publishing
production journals on fil­munderground.com, I have first-hand
knowledge of the intense interest in the nitty-gritty details of
actual film produc­tions. If your film is reasonably successful,
keep in mind that you may be able to leverage this content at a
later date, com­bining your journal with your script, production
stills and storyboards for publication in the form of a book.

Add Trailers to Your Site

In the final stages of post, adding sneak trailers
to your site (e.g. The Phantom Menace) is also great way
to spark interest in your film. Most non-linear editing systems
(including Avid Media Composers and Adobe Premiere) will spit out
a QuickTime movie you can post directly to your site. Everyone
loves a trailer, especially one of an up-and-­coming independent
film. They are becoming especially popular now that the "big
pipe" is becoming a reality with the fast download speeds
of DSL and cable modems. Moe Belli, editor and creator of Cyberfilmschool.com,
one of the most renowned and popular filmmaking sites on the web,
predicts that the ability to deliver rich content will translate
into significant changes for independent filmmakers. "With
the increase in available bandwidth, the internet is developing
into the perfect dynamic medium for presenting and mar­keting films," Belli
said. "And at a relatively low cost to the independent filmmaker." However,
you still cannot have large video files streaming off your server
to large numbers of users. Be especially wary if your online marketing
campaign is successful and there is a high demand for your video
content. Streaming video will eat up your bandwidth at an alarming
rate and possibly choke up the performance of your site to the
point that even simple HTML files can’t be accessed. Whether this
happens, and when, hinges on your Internet Service Provider (ISP)
and the volume of your traffic. As a rule of thumb, don’t make
your trailers any longer than three minutes. Keep a careful watch
on access times, and if they slow significantly, consider paying
for more dedicated band­width or moving to a higher-performance
host. If you’re lucky enough to have this happen, don’t kill your
marketing momentum with a slow-responding website.

Pitch webmasters for banner space

Once your film is completed and ready for distribution,
it’s time to start pitching web­masters for free banner space.
If you’re not familiar with banner advertising, a banner is a standard-size
graphical advertisement at the top of a web page that can be found
on most sites. "Clicking" on the advertisement will take
users directly to the advertised web site. Many professional websites
run their banners in a random rotation to optimize the number of
banners impressed per user. Be sure to create at least five different
banners that share common design elements to maximize the effectiveness
of your banner ad campaign. The objective is to get your banners
into the rotation on as many film related web sites as possible.
This is not very difficult if you understand the psychology of
site administrators. Literally thousands of sites on the web are
related to movies and moviemaking, and the majority were created
by aspiring moviemakers. In the indepen­dent film business, perhaps
more than any other industry, people are willing to help each other
out. If you approach these web­masters (read: struggling filmmakers)
with an appeal as one filmmaker to another, you might be surprised
at the positive response. This will be especially effective with
second and third-tier sites, whose webmasters likely envision themselves
in your position someday. If your banners are well crafted, it
will also be to their advantage to run your banner. Movie banners
have a widespread appeal and offer variety in the ad rotation.
A well designed banner for a hot new film also brings with it a
certain amount of cachet. If you’ve been accepted to a well-known
fes­tival, they will want the brand association with your film
and the festival. Keep in mind that only the top 10 percent of
these sites are making any money selling their banner space in
the first place, so giving a few thou­sand impressions away is
no great loss.

Provide screening and promotional info

As your film tours the film festival circuit or movie
theaters across the nation, times and locations of these showings
should be the main focus of your site and mailings. Motivate your
core group of supporters on your email list to attend local screenings
and spread the word at film festivals. They are the ones who will
want to wear your T­shirts and hats and circulate your posters,
among other things. Use the promotional potential of free giveaways
as an incentive to attend events, screenings and festivals. If
your film will have a city by city theatrical release, you may
want to reach out to regional websites that have a local focus.
Event-focused, community websites, such as Kulshan.com, provide
an avenue for reaching the entertainment market within specific
cities and regions.

With an online campaign, successfully reaching your
target market is not depen­dent on spending money. Having a budget
certainly helps, but for the most part, time is your biggest expenditure.
The only limit to the potential of your web campaign is the creativity
and ingenuity of the individ­uals behind it. MM

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