Hi Jon -
While I am a sucker for any article that discusses movie marketing, I have an issue with one of your statements, as they directly contradict my own experience as the Director of Marketing, and a Marketing Consultant, on over 100 independent feature films.
1 - "One great way to do that is through designing and releasing promotional materials. It's fun, easy, and for the most part, way less stressful than anything else you've done for your film so far. No one's going to judge your filmmaking abilities off of a poster, and that is a very liberating sentiment."
Nope, sorry. Just as an audience judges a book by its cover, audiences definitely judge a movie by its poster. That's why, when you're an independent filmmaker one of the 1st items you should create is your movie's poster. Why?
Because audiences judge a movie by its poster, they can provide you with valuable feedback prior to making your movie. If your poster doesn't strike a chord with them - and your poster visually represents your movie - then how is your movie going to strike a chord with them?
American International Pictures used to release their posters first, prior to scripting or production so they could determine where to spend their money. We used a similar methodology when I worked at York Entertainment. We would create titles and posters first, and gauge reaction from our international and domestic DVD and TV buyers. We ended up making 2/3rds of our proposed productions because they were already paid for upfront. The rest we filed away as the market wasn't looking for those types of movies from us.
So, for all independent filmmakers out there - invest your time and effort creating stills and posters and whatever else you can think of prior to producing your film. As Jon says above - it will inspire possible financiers and crew. Build your audience first, and understand exactly what they are looking for from your film. Then go make that film.