Publicity Materials and EventsThere are many decisions to make when promoting your film and staying on budget. Here, we’ll take a look at the process of promoting and releasing your film.  Relevant topics include:

  • Key art and print media
  • “Wild posting” and Guerilla events (these are not conventional, but I wish to address most non-virtual types of publicity)
  • Media buys, including print ads
  • Parties, releases, and alternatives
  • Sponsorships and partnerships

First: Key Art is Key

Good key art is invaluable, and is the central visual that will sell your film. At $10,000 on the low end, good key art can get very expensive.  However, online resources like crowd sourcing (Crowdspring.com) can help you to sidestep these high costs and to work with the artist of your choice.

Print Media

Full-size Posters:  24.5” x 37” posters are slightly smaller than standard size and can help to cut costs.  Theaters are willing to work with these smaller posters, and they will cost you about $1,300 for 2,000 posters, instead of $2,500.  Printing in bulk is more economical, and you can use the leftovers for giveaways and other promotions.

Mini Posters:  11” x 17” posters are useful for promotions and sale, and can be purchased at about $300 for 1,000 posters.  This size is great for hanging up inside of stores and other willing local venues.

Postcards:  Postcards seem to be fading out of style, so make sure they are relevant to your demographic before printing them.  Some promoters will only hand out postcards to people once they have had some sort of conversation or interaction with them.  This way, the postcard serves as a reminder and is not tossed away immediately.

Wild posting and Guerilla Marketing:  Hanging posters around cities can be very challenging.  Such “wild posting” in outdoor spaces is usually controlled by just a few companies in most cities, who post contracted posters in their spaces.  These are usually the only legal poster sites in a city and you can be fined for using their space.

Media Buys and Print Ads

Media buys are generally not affordable for independent filmmakers doing releases on their own. Try online media instead.

Theaters and Print Ad Space:  If you have a conventional booking in a conventional theater in NYC or LA, you will probably be required by your contract to buy print ad space, starting around $2,000.  You can ask your key art designer to make a variety of different-sized ads for you.   In smaller markets you can get better rates and larger ad space for less money.  For example, a few hundred dollars in San Francisco will get you about one-quarter of a page, which might be worth it for your particular film.  Co-op ads are popular for smaller theaters.  In these, you share ad space with several other films.

Trailers

Trailers in a theater will play repeatedly to a captive audience in the weeks before your release.  Your theatrical trailer will need to be in 35mm, and you can do a film transfer from a high-res digital output.  Have a lab print the 35mm copy, which will cost about $1,200.  Cutting and transforming a trailer from film negative will cost $2,000 – $5,000.

Promotions

Merchandise giveaways are great for promoting awareness of your film.  The production team did several such promotions for the graffiti documentary, Bomb It, to great success.  T-shirt and poster giveaways, and contests on radio and websites are great – they will talk about your film while giving away the product.  You can also do DVD giveaways during PBS and NPR pledge drives.  Bomb It did a raffle-type promotion where they had silk-screen printed versions of their poster signed by artist Shepard Firey raffled off – one for each of the night time screenings on Friday and Saturday of the opening weekend at the Laemmle Theater in LA.  Additionally, everyone who came to one of these screenings received a regular full-sized poster.

Special Screenings

Advance Premieres: A big advance premiere is only valuable if you have press coming out to cover the stars in attendance.  Without these, a premiere is a waste of money, since the press will most likely not show.  If you do have a premiere, tailor it to your niche and have it on a Monday or Tuesday night. This way, the press can run the info before your big opening weekend.

Cast and Crew Screenings:  Cast and crew screenings require theater rental and may result in a loss of opening weekend sales. Instead, invite the cast and crew to buy a ticket to the opening night, and give them a copy of the DVD and poster, as well.  This was done for Bomb It and everyone loved being part of the sold-out event in addition to receiving their DVD and poster.

Word-of-Mouth Screenings:  A paid college screening will be more worthwhile than a free word-of-mouth screening, which can be difficult to organize.  It’s important to discuss advance-screening plans with the theater you are contracted to.

Parties

Only organize an expensive party if it will appeal to your target audience.  If you’d like to do one for your cast and crew, there are some ways to make it worth your while.  See if a club will give you the space for free.  Use a local radio DJ for your party, and they may promote your film and party on air.  You can also try to find a liquor sponsor, so you can offer free drinks.

Alternative Advance Events

You can do alternative advance events where you show trailers and do promotion for the film.  For example, you could do as other DIY films have done and create a “party reel” to run in the background at clubs, gallery openings, and other non-film events, where you have teamed up with the venue to co-brand the events.  These types of promotions have met with great success.  Consider also doing a large fundraiser on the Monday or Tuesday before a Friday-night opening.  Fundraise in conjunction with some of your organizational partners and have them handle the set up and costs.

Sponsorships vs. Partnerships

Sponsorships:  Sponsorships are a great thing. Brian McNelis, the producer of Better Living Through Circuitry, raised over $25,000 for the P&A of that release through sponsorships.  Sponsorship usually comes from a corporation or other business, and they will usually determine their budget for such endeavors far in advance, so get started on this early on.  The film Bomb It, established a number of sponsorship arrangements with All City NRG/Arizona Iced Tea, Urb magazine, and Fusicology.

Sponsorship Deck:  A sponsor deck is necessary for asking for sponsorships, and is similar to the business plan you already have.  It should include: the film (short and long plot summary), the demographic, the kind of sponsorship you are seeking (cash, goods and services), and the specifics of special events and promotions the sponsor can be involved in.  These include banner placement at an event, product giveaways, co-op ad opportunities, ad space on your trailer, or a piece of media that they can have exclusively for their website.

Partnerships: Sponsors provide you with cash and services in exchange for promotion and placement, but partners actually get involved with the promotion in exchange for their own brand awareness.  Take this example, from McInnis.  Suppose you have a romantic comedy film, so you decide to have a speed-dating promotion event in the theater lobby on the night of the premiere.  You then partner with a speed-dating service that hosts the event.  They get exposure to your demographic as well as promoting your premiere.  Make sure, as McInnis emphasizes, that you are getting value from your sponsors and partners that is equal to the work you’re putting in.

DIY Approach to Publicity and Marketing: The Range Life Tour

Try to have a concrete strategy for the long and expensive task of promotion.  The Range Life marketing strategy has 3 primary elements:

  1. Online Media – Use social networks, and reach out to ‘tastemaker’ blogs.  Send out a few thousand emails through your sponsors.  Start this online saturation two-and-a-half weeks before screening.
  2. On-site Grassroots and Community Outreach – Range Life sends an advance team 10 days before arriving in a city to figure out how to best promote the tour in that city.  You can adapt this strategy to work with film promotion.