Marketing your filmCongratulations! Your film is finished (or soon to be finished) and is getting ready for release. Don’t break out the bubbly yet, though, because the next step in the filmmaking process is the key to the ultimate success of your film. It’s time to get the word out about your film, to create interest and increase your potential audience as much as possible.

Forms of Publicity

You can use three types of film publicity to your advantage: traditional press, issue awareness, and what I am going to call “piggybacking” press.

  • Traditional Press – Navigating the terrain of conventional publicity has been covered in many other articles, but generally speaking, you’ll find traditional press (print, radio, and television media; advertisements; interviews; etc.) to work best to your advantage when you time it to coincide with a unique event (such as a film screening of an independent film). Make sure that any specific press about your film appears in places where your target audience will encounter it. If your film is about a hard-rock band, for example, it would likely be a waste of your time and money to place an advertising spot on a soft-rock radio station. When done well, and especially if done yourself, traditional press can be a cost-effective and successful method of raising awareness about your film.
  • Issue Awareness – This type of press, rather than directly advertising your film, raises awareness about the topic of your film. After all, people generally choose to see a film because they are interested in its subject. This doesn’t just apply to documentaries, either. If your film is a narrative about historical events, real people, or fictional people struggling with a real-life issue, then you still have a social theme to which potential audience members may relate. By harnessing social awareness about an issue featured in your film, you increase the likelihood that your audience will be motivated to hear your message.
  • “Piggybacking” Press – As the name suggests, this type of publicity inserts itself into a pre-existing conversation in the media. For example, let’s say you’ve created a film about the decreasing size of the rainforest. If local environmental activists have chained themselves to trees, you might consider contacting their organization and asking them to spread the word about your film. Although their cause is not directly about the rainforest, the similarity between their cause and your film’s message may work to everyone’s advantage. Ask them if you can post a clip of your film on their website. This collaboration might catch the interest of members of the news media who are looking for a new angle on the story.

Methods of Creating Publicity

You shouldn’t wait until the last minute to work on your film’s publicity. Waiting too long to begin your film’s promotion might cause you to miss out on some great opportunities. Keep in mind these various methods of promoting your film. As you contact these various sources, don’t forget to consider whether they will reach a receptive potential audience for your film. Don’t waste your energy promoting to an audience that won’t care about your film’s topic.

  • Short Lead Media – As the name suggests, this is the type of publicity that takes the least amount of time before your film’s release. Usually this will include local press, weekly and daily papers, and blogs, all of whom won’t need more than a few weeks’ notice (and sometimes even less) to include you in their publication.
  • Long Lead Media – Once again as the name suggests, this type of publicity begins its preparation long before the release of your film. You should know your film’s release date at least six to eight months beforehand in order to utilize this type of media.  Failure to do so will profoundly limit your ability to pursue this type of publicity. Long lead media includes nationally released monthlies, including Vogue, Vanity Fair, or Rolling Stone as an example. Of course, if your independent film doesn’t have a big star either in or supporting your film, or if it doesn’t have some kind of remarkable hook, then you likely won’t have much success getting this type of press.
  • Super-Long Lead Media – This form of publicity includes blogs and fan sites. By contacting niche media sources in the very early stages of filmmaking (during production, for example, or possibly even as early as prep), you will get the buzz out quickly, building expectation exponentially over time. Develop a relationship with the people in charge of the blogs or fan sites and check in with them consistently throughout your production.
  • Radio – Even if you can’t afford the high cost of an advertisement spot, you can still use radio to your advantage. Contact various radio stations (and programs within some stations, such as on public radio) to find out about doing interviews or special programs on the air. Offer DVDs, free tickets, and other film-related merchandise to radio stations for use in giveaways, too.
  • Television – Truth be told, as an independent filmmaker you may find the television market to be a difficult one. Don’t entirely give up on this form of media, however. Look into local stations – for example, in the town where you shot your film, or in the hometown of one of your actors. Human interest stories can certainly pique the interest of television programs, so use this to your advantage. In addition, talk to news stations if your film is related to a big current event, or if something else related to your film is gaining its own attention.

Timing Your Publicity

Contrary to what you may believe, the timing of your film’s publicity can actually harm your ability to reach your potential audience members. If your film will appear anywhere before its official theatrical release (for example, at a festival), then be cautious about how you promote it. If a reviewer sees your film at a festival and publishes his or her review at that time, chances are high that you won’t get a second review published in that location at the time of your theatrical release. This can ultimately harm public awareness of your film for its release, which in turn will negatively affect your revenue.

To avoid a problem like this, you or your publicist, if you have one,  needs to talk about this concern with your film’s reviewers. Ask them if they will review your film but hold off on its publication until your film’s theatrical release. Be wary of giving interviews at festivals, too, since a paper won’t repeat the interview later, when your film’s release really needs the publicity. Lastly, be cautious about what you ask of your actors before the film’s release. Every actor from your film does not need to make an appearance at a festival; this is a waste of their energy and your money. Sending just one actor to Sundance, for example, is more than enough for your purposes.

Of course, if your theatrical release coincides with alternate screenings or festivals, you can ignore all of this advice and cultivate as much public attention and positive commentary as possible.