Today’s moviemakers can no longer expect someone to come and take their film off their hands by guaranteeing a theatrical release and full recoupment of the budget. You are now responsible for the marketing and promotion of your own film. But even if you are picked up by a distributor, any marketing work you do in advance will not only help you during your release, but might actually help you get stronger distribution deals than you would have otherwise.
So here are 10 essential things to know about promoting your movie.
1. It all begins with a plan. Each film is unique and requires its own individual distribution and marketing strategy. A comedy about stoners will not have the same audience as a documentary about AIDS orphans in Tanzania. Similarly, each moviemaker has a different set of goals, needs and resources. While the one-size-fits-all studio model has worked well for some independent films over the last 20 years, it has been a disaster for others. With the new hybrid model of distribution you can craft a distribution and marketing strategy that makes the most sense for your film. You have a unique vision; use that vision to engage your unique audience in a unique manner. This will help separate you from the media noise that surrounds us every day.
2. Start the process at inception. With minimal resources (or even with a lot of resources), it can take a long time to engage your audience. This engagement will be much more organic if you integrate it into the whole life cycle of a film. Additional video, audio and photo assets need to not only be created in production and post, but conceptualized and planned for before and during prep, just like the rest of production.
Beginning during prep and production, you are allowing your audience to be involved in the creation of the movie. This in turn invests them in its success. This can happen through crowdsourcing of various creative aspects of the film or through the crowd funding of the budget for the film (see pg. 46). These engaged audience members will be active promoters of your film because they will have a connection with it.
3. The 50 Percent Rule for distribution and marketing. Distribution and marketing can take as long and cost as much, if not more than, your original production budget. The new 50 percent rule illustrates the mental shift that producers must make about the entire moviemaking process. This is not a hard and fast rule, as all films are unique. But it is essential to match the budget of your release to the kind of film that it is, your goals and where it fits into your career. As budgets go up, the proportion might be less, but it is a good guideline when embarking on a project. It is far better to have $50,000 to release a $50,000 film than to make a $100,000 film with no way of getting it out to an audience.
4. Identify your audience. This is not 18 to 25-year-old boys/men. Or 35 to 55-year-old women. As an independent moviemaker, you need to be much more specific—especially in the beginning. You are better off identifying niche audiences and the cores within them so that you can connect with those people specifically. The terms “core” and “niche” are often used interchangeably, but that is a mistake. The niche audience for your film is that slice of the population that has a particular interest in your film or an aspect of your film. The core audience for your film are those people within each niche who are your most ardent supporters—those people who will spread the word about your film. Be flexible, as you may discover your film appeals to different audiences than you originally imagined.
5. Research where your audience receives information. Does your audience use social media, or are they best communicated with through an organization? Do they respond to e-mail, or do they read and respond to print magazines? This information is determined by research. Some audiences use social media, but you need to determine which social networks they use. While Facebook and Twitter are good places to start, many more networks exits. Even within larger social networks, you can identify smaller groups.
6. Engage organizations to promote your film. Many niches have organizations that support their specific interests. Engage those groups early in the process (as early as conception and prep). It is important to have the proper attitude toward your audience and these organizations. You need to think, ‘What can I give them?’ instead of ‘What can they do for me?’ If you think of the former, the latter will flow. Remember: People are very busy, so you need to give them an incentive to be involved with you. The film is not enough. How will the film service their organization, their lives and the lives of their members? In turn, they will help you promote your film. This has been used to great effect by documentarians. Narrative moviemakers need to follow their lead.
7. Use social media for connection and engagement. Remember the 80/20 rule: Only 20 percent of what you post and blog about should be about you and your film. The other 80 percent should be about information that is of interest to your audience. This will make your project relevant to them on a broader level and keep them coming back. In turn, become active on other people’s blogs by commenting on their posts with intelligent, relevant comments. Become part of the conversation. The video version of this is to post your trailer or other media as a comment on other relevant clips on YouTube. Initiate conversation on your sites by asking your audience questions.
8. Important old school assets. Your best marketing asset is your film, so you need a great one. You also need a great: title, trailer, poster and still photos from your production. Don’t officially publish anything—including your film—until it is the best it can be. Screen; get new eyeballs outside of your friends, family and comfort zone; re-screen.
9. Create content. Content is king. It’s what gives people a reason to follow you. It is something that you can exchange for e-mail addresses or promotional support. The more content you have—and the better it is—the more you can achieve with it. This content is not your film or your trailer, either; it is additional material that you conceptualized at inception or perhaps created after the fact. Think of what kinds of assets would be valuable to your audience and encourage them to recommend it to their friends. In addition, you still should collect the standard promotional materials (stills, behind-the-scenes footage and an EPK), as well as create something that hopefully hasn’t been done before.
10. Introducing PMD. A lot of moviemakers complain about all these new tasks that we are responsible for in distribution and marketing. This is how I came up with the concept of the “Producer of Marketing and Distribution,” or PMD. Just like you most likely did not make your film on your own, you should not be distributing and marketing the film on your own. I would argue that from now on, every film needs one person devoted to the distribution and marketing of the film from inception, just as they have a line producer, assistant director or editor. I have given this crew position the official title of PMD, since we need to train people to do this task, give classes in it and write books about it, just as people are educated (or learn on their own) to become DPs. My hope is that someday soon, when you put out a crew call, you will get as many resumes for PMDs as you will for production designers or grips. MM
Jon Reiss is the author of Think Outside the Box Office and the producer-director of Bomb It. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Reiss or read more at www.jonreiss.com/blog and www.facebook.com/thinkoutsidetheboxoffice.