Film marketing buzz
At every stage of the feature filmmaking process you will be thinking about how you are going to sell your masterpiece and taking the appropriate steps.
I've included a page in each section of the filmmaking lessons on what sort of activities you should doing to spread the buzz.
Film Development Buzz starts before you've even written the script.
Preproduction Buzz makes the right people aware of what you are up to.
Production Buzz keeps spreading the word at the same time as you are gathering the important marketing materials you will need for the final assault.
Postproduction Buzz begins to get the word to the people who will help you sell your film.
Once your film is done everything needs to come together to get your film distributed and in front of audiences.
If you are a new filmmaker just learning by making a first couple of short films you can ignore this page. However, if you are ready to make a serious attempt at a feature film then keep reading.
Getting your movie buzz started
Right now you're probably thinking, "I haven't even written my script. Why should I be thinking about movie buzz? Isn't that a marketing thing? I'll worry about the film marketing campaign when my movie's done."
You'll be making a big mistake if you don't start on your film's marketing plan right from the start. Lots of filmmakers know how to make an interesting movie but few filmmakers know how to sell it. Marketing is a big part of doing a successful crowd-funding and distribution.
Consider the following filmmaking statistics.
The average large film studio considers fifteen thousand pitches for new movie ideas each year but can only afford to green-light about a dozen.
At least 100,000 screenplays are written each year. About 7,000 feature length films get made each year.
Of those 7,000 films only 500 will ever have even the most modest distribution. Only 200 will have a decent shot at a theatrical release. These will be mostly studio films or from very large, well-financed independent companies. Most of those 200 films will lose money. Realize that no matter how good your film is, there are very few slots available each year for traditional distribution. You will have to do everything you can to improve your chances of getting one of those slots.
Having good buzz is what will get you funding and great independent distribution that bypasses the traditional gatekeepers of the film industry.
Every company, in every line of business, always works out a marketing plan before they launch a new product. They have to know if there is a market for the new product and how to get the word out to any potential customers. You should be doing the same. Do your research up front. It might take a lot of money and a big chunk of your life to make your film. Do everything you can to make the most of this opportunity.
As an independent filmmaker you are actually a small business owner in the business of selling entertainment. A thing to understand about filmmaking is that there may be two customers you are trying to sell to.
Ultimately you are trying to sell to your audience. But your real customers may be the people who buy and distribute films. These include acquisition agents, distribution selling agents, foreign selling agents, domestic and foreign distributors. They are the gate-keepers who must be sold on your film before it can get to your audience through the traditional distribution channels.
Any buzz, excitement and anticipation you can create in your future audience, such as at film festivals, will help convince those gate-keepers that your film has value. But you also need to be able to appeal to their business sense directly. These business people night be your real customers.
But today there are alternate filmmaking distribution channels where you can bypass selling into these old established channels.
Marketing your new indie feature film
The first question is whether there is a market for your movie idea. A film marketing campaign has to be based on something that can be sold. Almost all people go to movies to have a certain kind of experience. If they are going to see a romantic comedy then the movie better be funny and romantic. If they are expecting a horror film then it better be bloody and scary.
The first fact is that your movie needs to fit into an accepted genre or few people will go see it. A lot of indie films are hard to classify and therefore hard to sell to an audience. A horror film that is more philosophical and slow isn't going to satisfy its audience any more than a romantic comedy that isn't very funny or romantic.
The second fact is that the genre you pick must be a salable genre. Many decades ago the western genre was very popular. How many successful westerns can you name that have been made recently?
Good, scary horror films are almost always in demand which is why many indie filmmakers get their start in the horror genre. You can study what genres are selling by looking at film box-office sites, including the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), and seeing what genres rise to the top of the lists.
The popularity of genres changes from year to year, even month to month. If there's been a glut of Sci-fi movies lately then people will be looking for other ways to be entertained. Start asking yourself, "What is my movie about? Who is this movie for?" Don't start filming until you have an answer to those questions. Know what are the pitches you will use to sell your film.
If there are very few distributors for your kind of film it will be a hard sell. Also, if this isn't going to appeal to foreign audiences you will miss out on a huge international audience. Today the entire world is your audience.
Useful Sites for Filmmakers
The Independent Film & Television Alliance, formerly known as the American Film Marketing Association, is the trade association for the independent film and television industry.
This is the organization of the sales representatives that sell American films to other countries. By studying the member profiles you can get an excellent idea of what festivals they attend and what kinds of films they sell.
This is not to say you shouldn't follow your passion. Never sell out your artistic sensibility just to try to copy the latest trends. You won't have any enthusiasm for what you're doing and will do a poor job. In fact buyers and audiences are heavily influenced by the amount of passion you show for your project. Just realize that as your film becomes more specialized your potential for selling it also goes down.
This brings up an important point. A filmmaker is always on stage and needs to show enthusiasm every time s/he talks to anyone about his/her film ideas. That's part of what creates movie buzz. Don't be phony because that's obvious. Be genuine and represent your movie accurately--but with energy. If you are a brooding artist and not good at PR then learn how to be good at PR, or hire someone who is.
Unfortunately it is almost impossible to predict what genres will be popular a year or two from now if it takes that long to finally complete. In the end you may just have to go with the story you feel passionate about and hope you can find a way to market it.
The second question to ask yourself is if your story idea really stands out somehow. If you don't have something new and different and worth getting excited about then how do you expect to create the movie buzz that will get your audience excited enough to be willing to part with their hard earned money to see your film?
Ask the movie buzz professionals
A funny thing about human nature is that everyone wants to be able to claim to be the first one to discover anything new. Use this by giving people the chance to discover you.
As your movie idea takes form try talking to a film marketing professional. A publicist, acquisition agent, entertainment lawyer or distribution selling agent can generally be persuaded, perhaps for a fee, to spend a hour or two consulting on your story pitch. Few indies try this route. You can find these in professional directories and hanging out at the large film festivals.
You can possibly accomplish two things by trying this.
First you will be talking to someone in the business who can be very objective and give you the straight story on your chances of success. You may hear some good reasons why your idea isn't so brilliant after all. Be prepared to not get a lot of encouragement since many film marketing professionals are cynical after years in the industry.
Second, however, you may get good suggestions that will help you direct your efforts to what is original and exciting about your idea. If one of these pros likes you and your idea you will have gained a powerful champion who can help you package your concept and open many doors in the future.
Sometimes an idea will happen to catch the fancy of an acquisition agent and you could even find yourself getting offers to buy your idea or even to get financing to direct the film yourself if you can show you have the ability.
Another good possibility is to talk to local festival publicists and directors about your film idea. They are usually very interested in independent films and will probably be flattered to be asked to consult on ideas for your film. If they show interest keep them involved by sending them progress updates and include them in early screenings. If they like what you are doing you will be a shoe-in to their festival and they will make sure you get publicity in the local media.
Ask a Film Consultant
Robert Hawk, advisor to filmmakers and film festivals, has his own business, ICI (Independent Consultation for Independents), and has been part of the independent film scene for over twenty years, starting as a researcher on the Oscar-winning "The Times of Harvey Milk." Mr. Hawk, besides being an amazing guy, is a true cinema scholar - a legendary and ardent champion of truly independent film who demonstrates respect for cinema as art in his work with filmmakers from production through distribution.
Producer credits include "Ballets Russes," "Trick," "Chasing Amy," "The Slaughter Rule," as well as "Clerks 2: The Passion of the Clerks" and "Downtown" (both 2006). As consultant: "Bee Season," "The Deep End," "The Celluloid Closet," "The Laramie Project," "Big Eden," "Urbania," and hundreds more.
firstname.lastname@example.org (212) 946-1048 (New York)
Learn from other's successes
Always be on the lookout for a successful independent film marketing campaign. When that one great film creates true movie buzz, rises to the top at Sundance and gets acquired, find out what they did to get noticed and add those techniques to your arsenal.
Don't be afraid to send an email or pick up the phone and call. The majority of indie filmmakers are friendly and willing to share ideas and techniques.
It doesn't have to be a film marketing campaign, watch for how any unknown product suddenly becomes the next hot buzz.
Jump to the next part of the Film Marketing Buzz article in the Preproduction section.