How to publicize your Indie Film
There’s a slew of good methods that can be used to promote an independent film if you’re ready to invest a substantial amount of time (on a daily basis). Preferably you start from the beginning of the development of the script, continue through production then release and then well after the film’s debut. That level of effort could make a difference in how big of an audience you get. If you’re willing to invest that kind of time then there are books and online tutorials that will help you. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
I’m here to tell you about the shortcut – i.e. how to invest the least amount of time and energy and get the most reward. How to get the biggest bang for the buck. Most filmmakers are busy and want to focus on the creative side so let’s talk about how to use your head, leverage other people, and how to get the biggest impact for your film and yourself – as numerous indies have done recently.
Promoting an independent film can be summarized as a tale of two baseball movies. There is the 1989 Kevin Costner baseball film that tells you that dreams can come true and this philosophy serves as the backbone of what motivates and inspires so many filmmakers today. “Build it and they will come.” It’s the Kevin Costner Fields of Dreams theory of filmmaking and if you go to conferences, festivals, and listen to inspirational filmmaking speakers you often get some version of this advice: “Just do it.”
Just make a movie. Don’t put too much thought into how you might publicize it, sell it or make money from it because all you need to do is get 90 minutes edited and cut. The right people and the big audience will find you! They will see your genius at work, despite the low budgets and unknown actors. It will be your “calling card” film that will put you on the map and lead you to job offers galore.
To those people, I would refer them to an old conundrum: “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If you make a film and no one sees it, are you really a “Feature Filmmaker?” Or did you just make a very expensive home movie?
Thirteen years after Field of Dreams, Brad Pitt starred in a very different kind of baseball movie and the lesson there is much more hard-nosed: Life is hard. Life isn’t fair. The game is rigged against you. But if you do the work and you use your head, you can get over on the big guys because they are lazy and they think brute force and a massive money advantage will carry the day.
Moneyball is not just a baseball movie. It summarizes one of my favorite business strategies. Moneyball chronicles the rise of the Oakland A’s. The theory is that you could find baseball players that were traditionally overlooked, yet who contributed tremendously to producing runs and therefore wins on a baseball team. Billy Bean found, through relentless statistical analysis, that skills like stealing bases, running fast, and making diving catches might put a player on the highlight reel of the evening news, but those skills did little to affect the outcome of a baseball game. However, a more mundane skill like fouling off balls or not swinging at bad pitches, even though these skills never made a highlight reel, they had the result of wearing down the opposing pitchers and winning a lot of games.
Can you Moneyball your PR budget?
Putting your film in theaters is generally considered to be the anti-Moneyball approach. Even for big successful franchises, theatrical runs are movie-losers. They are mostly a way of promoting a line of toys, comics, theme-parks, cruises and coloring books. Theater runs lose money (usually).
Another route you could try is to use social media to “go viral.” Do something crazy online. Get attention. But Facebook and Twitter have already figured out that they don’t make the big bucks by letting everyone “go viral.” They’ve been quietly putting the screws to “organic growth” for years. By design, if you want attention online, you’ll have to pay for it. Social media is now all about creative “ad-buys” and there’s no equation where the cost of those ad-buys make it profitable to promote a film.
You’re not selling a product with a 5000% profit margin and as soon as you stop running your credit card, those ads are gone from the face of the planet. The artifacts from that investment do not stick around to keep paying off year after year.
So the question is: How do you spend time and money today in a smart way that will pay dividends for years to come? What would Billy Bean, Brad Pitt and Michael Lewis do if they were promoting a low-budget film? What is the Moneyball approach here?
You need to get your film reviewed by legitimate, professional movie critics. Period. That’s the only way. Yes, there’s a risk they won’t like your film but that’s a risk that you simply need to take.
The most efficient way to promote your film is to get respected critics to watch and write about it. This is harder than it seems because the vast majority of old-school, top tier critics won’t write about your movie because they have an editor who will make the decisions about what get published. And your indie won’t make the cut. Your movie is a non-starter for most top-tier newspapers (and therefore, critics) unless it’s the #3 movie on Netflix or you won Sundance or Ryan Gosling is in it.
This is where Brad Pitt’s Moneyball strategy is important. The heavy lifting is finding the critics that still review small indies, yet they have big audiences. There are critics who write for top tier journals but simultaneously review tiny indies for a large Movie Blog or an Independent film website. These critics, by virtue of their reputation, have all their reviews aggregated by major film review sites and if you can find them, they will review small films as well. These are the gold-mine writers. Respected writers, writing for free-wheeling, uber-movie-blogs and websites. This is Moneyball.
When I ran marketing campaigns for clients like Wells Fargo, Walmart, Sephora, and Nike, we called it “Influencer Marketing.” Find Influencers who already have the audience you want. They already have influence. Don’t market to the masses. Market to the Influencers and if you get it right, they will market FOR YOU, to everyone else. This may be a new way to market banking services, shoes and makeup but, “Influencer Marketing” among films is as old as Casablanca. The film industry already has an established set of Influencers and Taste Makers. They are called Film Critics. These are the people you need.
Let’s talk about “bad reviews” for a second because everyone worries about them.
I don’t have hard data to back this but from a fairly extensive poll of sales agents, distributors, movie critics, producers and fans, the old adage is true: Any press is good Press. Even bad reviews are better than no reviews. No reviews means your tree fell in the forest and no one cared. Sub-par reviews means you made a movie, a REAL MOVIE. People were paying attention to it. Even professional journalists got a hold of it and found it interesting enough to write about. If you do get less-than-stellar reviews, it matters less than being invisible.
Viewers know critics can be unforgiving and your “reach might have exceeded your grasp” and you might “have gone for too much” but by gosh, YOU MADE A MOVIE! My completely unscientific poll showed a consensus that the scores have to be very, very bad – like below 20% – to outweigh a No-Score at all. In other words, a film with a 35% or a 40% on Rotten Tomatoes typically looked more interesting and got more attention from the casual observer than a film with no critical reviews at all.
But the news gets better. The surprising truth is that critics are people too. And for small films, many film journalists consider their roles to be more like cheerleaders and talent scouts; as opposed to task-masters and dream-crushers. Film critics looking at small films know the audiences are biased against these small budget indies because they lack star power. So writers tend to point out the positives of the film, giving the reader all the reasons to check out this film as opposed to the latest from Marvel or Pixar blockbuster.
You made a movie. You need to take the risk. If you’re a filmmaker but you’re too shy to have your work reviewed by critics then you ought to have gone into another line of work. The reality is that the value that comes with reviews is far beyond any other form of marketing with a commensurate level of effort and money.
Here are some of the areas that critical reviews add to the film’s value and the filmmaker’s career.
First, if you get your film reviewed while it’s still in festivals or before it has a distribution deal, then the reviews will inevitably become part of the pitch package to sales agents and distributors. Good reviews will increase the number of agents that call you back and make agents and distributors available to you that would have otherwise been beyond your reach. And press helps close the deal. I worked on a world premiere at Cannes and got 20 reviews printed on the film within 3 days of the premiere. The producers walked into meetings (in Cannes) with the biggest US and international distributors in the world with a slew of positive reviews of their film already posted online and they sold that movie right then and there. In just 3 days, the campaign had paid for itself many times over.
Second, international buyers and platforms tend to rely heavily on film press and critical opinion while screening what films they want to short-list for purchase. Netflix, Hulu and all the major streamers use “Expert Opinion” in this way to short-list their possible purchases. All those buyers are using reviews in their decision-making processes.
Third, obviously, when the film is finally released, potential viewers will first rely on “Social Proof” that comes with a critical reception score. These scores should be photoshopped into your trailer when the film goes out to debut. The quotes and scores should be edited onto the films poster along with top festival laurels. Every major tech company and movie app from Google, Apple, Flixster, Microsoft are piping your film’s critical reception score to every person searching for info on your film. You are leveraging the top tech companies in the world to promote your film.
Fourth, unlike any other forms of film promotion, critical response now lives online forever. Every day for the next decade plus, anyone looking up your film online will see the critical reception. That’s a high leverage investment that pays off daily for years even though you only had to pay for it once.
Finally, and maybe most importantly: a producer or director needs those reviews for their career. They need proof that they “made a real movie.” And someone liked it. It was good. One of the surprising things about our business is how many filmmakers come to us to promote a film well beyond the release date of their film. I recently worked with a 6-year old film. It had garnered literally thousands of Amazon positive ratings but as the producer said: “Amazon ratings don’t mean sh*t to anyone!”… And he’s right. He was, like many of our customers, about to go pitch his next film – asking for funding on his next project. Putting together his pitch package, he realized that the very first question from the investors will be: “How did your last movie go?” and by that, they mean both financial results and critical response.
And believe me, if you don’t have the first one, you’d better have the second. Even if you did have good financials, it’s still better with critical acclaim.
If you want to get more information on Bunker15 Films, send in your film info (this can go to: www.bunker15.com/submit) or just say ‘hi’ through the Contact Us page.
ABOUT BUNKER 15
Every film deserves to find its audience! Bunker15’s smart-tech Publicity Engine helps target the right journalists to promote your movie (VOD or Theatrical). Whether you have a theatrical release or go direct-to-VOD, every movie can earn Press. Bunker15 will raise the profile of the film, adding long-term value, positioning it in the international marketplace and giving the careers of the filmmakers a big boost.