Here's a primer on some basic ways to be your own film's best advocate.
[Editor’s Note: This post was written by Mark Johnson from The School of Communication Arts, a vocational college based in Brixton, UK specializing in providing all the training needed to transition into advertising & creative industries.]
We all know that indie filmmakers wear many hats. You might be directing and shooting and writing and lighting and doing a lot of the leg work for your own productions. But another responsibility—one that is almost equally important but can easily fall by the wayside amid all these tasks—is marketing, which should be done early and often to make all the other efforts worthwhile.
"An engaging trailer can be worth a thousand promotional tweets."
It's important to keep the ball rolling with your marketing, as soon as pre-production begins, and all the way through post-production. Starting to spread the word and build interest in your project early will ultimately pay off by getting audiences to see your film. Especially if you're focusing on a niche genre, it's crucial that you and make contact not only with fans, but with taste-makers and decision-makers. Here are five ways to go about it:
1. Social it
If you're not already into sharing and hashtagging, now's the time. Social media might seem a long way from the sepia-toned days of yore, but it's an invaluable way of getting in direct contact with likeminded people, find your fans, and build buzz for your upcoming release. The basic social media tools are still Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube/Vimeo, but maybe you'll find another that you enjoy using or that your audience responds to, like Vine or Snapchat.
An easy platform to get started with is Twitter, for short, snappy comments and announcements:
- Get creative with hashtags; if you come up with a good one and it sticks with the Twitter community, it could easily go viral. Back in 2015, Owen Wilson & Ben Stiller made an appearance at the Paris Fashion Week dressed as their avant-garde characters Derek & Hansel to promote the release of their new film. Soon after, social media went crazy with Instagram, Twitter & Vine users all trending the hashtag #Zoolander2.
- If you're not releasing anything soon, don't be afraid of using currently trending hashtags that are relevant to your film, as this will help you to get involved in current film discussions to drive retweets and followers to your page, and to build an audience ready for your project.
- Be careful not to just promote your own work here directly. You can also join relevant conversations, promote like-\minded projects, and talk about that topics that your film talks about.
You likely don’t have the budget of Zoolander2, but one of the best things about the social media tools is that they are free to use, and you can do so in creative ways that get attention. For example, Oscilloscope Labs decided it would be a good idea to release big chunks of their 2013 comedy It’s a Disaster on Vine; in 6 second segments (the maximum upload length of any video on the app). Whether or not this was a good idea from a viewer perspective, it clearly got people talking. Maybe not so much of a disaster after all.
2. Crowdfund it
With sites like Indiegogo, Kickstarter and Seed&Spark, funding for indie films has been transformed; it's now possible for a film or project to be entirely funded by online donations. Crowdfunding is not only one of the most popular ways to fund your film today, it's also a great way to get potential audiences on board with your project early. In other words, crowdfunding is also marketing.
If you already have a fan base, this is a good place to capitalize on it. When everyone’s favorite crime drama Veronica Mars (yes, throwback I know) took to crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in 2013 to raise funds for a Veronica Mars Movie, fans were delighted and altogether raised over $5.5 million dollars—making it still one of the most funded projects of all time. Needless to say, the movie was released over a year later thanks to fan funding.
For those projects without a pre-existing fanbase however, crowdfunding can be a bit hit or miss. Therefore, it is essential to pitch a well thought out project & plan to your backers. The good news is that the materials you create for your crowdfunding campaign can likely be used for marketing the film in other ways, too. Indie anime series Bee and Puppycat didn’t have a huge fanbase to begin with, though with the help of Kickstarter and some enthusiastic backers, this relatively unknown animated series managed to accumulate over $800,000 worth of pledges, proving you should never underestimate the power of crowdfunding, no matter how niche your project is. See the first episode of Bee and Puppycat below:
3. Trailer it
An engaging trailer can be worth a thousand promotional tweets. This is a crucial aspect of your marketing; you are, after all, a filmmaker. It should be within your talents to produce a good quality trailer for your project. YouTube and Vimeo are classic platforms for uploading teaser trailers and longer versions, particularly as you can link them with your other social media channels & drive traffic to your website or social platforms.
YouTube and Vimeo are undoubtedly the go-to places to upload your trailer initially, but you can then reach out to outlets such as IndieWire, Way Too Indie, and, of course, No Film School, since these sites are bound to have a higher concentration of relevant audience members who care about films. Even uploading short clips to Instagram and Vine can help you spread the word.
"Giving more of an insight into your process will help your audience become more emotionally invested in the film, and you can start providing that as soon as you conceive of your idea."
4. Blog it
Every film fan loves the Bonus Material section on a DVD, but those are largely relics of the past now. However, your own blog can have the same effect. When it comes to marketing, it’s not just the film itself that can interest people. They want to hear about the making of it, the ups, the downs, the bloopers, behind the scenes, the funny bits…Giving more of an insight into your process will help your audience become more emotionally invested in the film, and you can start providing that as soon as you conceive of your idea.
As with social media, blogging is free, so you don’t need to use precious production funding to do it. As an added bonus, it can help buoy your production and encourage you in the process when there are audiences following along.
Once you have some material on your site, reaching out to specialty blogs for cross-promotion, as well as influencers in the indie film niche, can allow you to both get your project in front of an audience and build relationships with people who have the resources you need to get your film made and released.
Content marketing on your blog is another useful way to build a buzz. Take the Blair Witch Project for example; the original was an indie production (released over 17 years ago) which is oft touted as the most successful indie film of all time, in part because of its early use of online marketing. Now that a remake has been released, the marketing team has set up a landing page featuring an integrated VR experience of the movie—a great way to get people engaged with and excited about the upcoming release.
While you may lack the budget required for this level of marketing, the take-away from this example is to be creative and find new ways to engage your audience with the project on your blog.
"Make your marketing campaigns fit the theme and style of your filmmaking."
5. Festival it
The goal of getting your films into festivals is pretty much a given for most indie makers, but have you actually thought of festivals as the ultimate marketing tool? Well, they are, because four things could happen when you screen at a fest:
- A deal could be made. Although this is less likely to happen on smaller festivals, if you can get your film seen by professionals in the business, or your project displayed in front of those elusive talent spotters, there’s still a chance of them offering you a deal.
- An award could be won. Some say that small film awards are a dime a dozen, but it’s much more impressive having an award to mention in your marketing materials than nothing at all and, hey, you could win some cash.
- A Q&A or panel discussion could happen. Whether or not you’re interested in winning awards, do some face-to-face marketing by getting onto as many panels as possible. Not only can you meet and talk with people in the industry, but you will get to show your face to the fans and get noticed as an influencer.
- A review could be written. For better or for worse, for every film, there are a dozen critics offering their insight. Many of these are bloggers or have a collection of loyal followers, so there words could go a long way toward recognition of your film. Try and get your film to as many critics as possible, and if they say something favorable that you want to quote on a poster or trailer, remember to reference the reviewer and send them a copy.
You can do it
All of these tips are doable by anyone creative enough to make a film. The work doesn't nearly end when you say 'cut' for the final time, but that doesn’t mean that you have to go about marketing your film in traditional ways, or that the process of connecting with fans can’t be fun. Make your marketing campaigns fit the theme and style of your filmmaking, keep at it and stay positive; you'll find a willing audience!