The purpose of this post is to explain how to market your indie movie correctly and avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made. This is a practical piece but it helps to understand the reasoning behind my suggestions. I’ve spent a couple of years now investigating and experimenting with social media on my own movies and not always getting it right! Much of the research and exploration I’ve done has been inspired by Henry Jenkin’s whitepaper on spreadable media, from the Workbook Project and a mountain of social media presentations on SlideShare!
I’m going to assume that as indie filmmakers (a) you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on advertising campaigns (although more on this in a later post) and hence (b) that you want to use word-of-mouth to make people aware of the movie ahead of it being seen.
So here it is: You have to create marketing materials – social media – that make a contribution to a person’s (online) social life. Audiences don’t build their world around your movie or your marketing materials - they take your movie and media use it for their own (social) purposes. That means (borrowing from Jenkin’s paper) you have to create media that allows your audience to:
- express something about themselves or their community
- express a deeply held perception or view of the world
- determine who’s in and who’s out
- conduct some kind of social function – like sharing, referring, alerting, gossiping, debating (etc.)
The problem with the usual trailer and movie poster is they can only work in this way if you’ve got the kudos built into the project from the beginning – like a named cast or named director, maybe a popular franchise. Then those well-known elements all bring a message or meaning which fans use to express themselves. And, media built on these elements has a social worth as a gift or tribute.
For example, if I decorate my MySpace or Facebook page with a poster from Old Boy or La Haine, it’s communicating something about me – I’m using the poster not to promote the film but to signal the type of person that I am and the people I’m interested to meet. Similarly, if I forward the link to a trailer to a friend, I’m doing it to reinforce the friendship because I think this gesture or “gift” will be appreciated and they’ll think kindly towards me. It’s not really because I want to promote the film (unless I know the filmmakers of course), it's what the trailer is doing for me.
So, if you’ve got an indie film that nobody’s heard of, your trailer isn't punching at the same weight – your trailer and poster are not performing those necessary social functions in the same way or as effectively. Worse still, until there’s a body of opinion that says your film isn’t lame, whoever carries your colors is going out on a limb under the threat of ridicule from the community. Not everyone’s ready to do that.
What to do?
First, recognize that you’ve got a problem. Second, break down all the elements in your film that you do have – start with the cast, the crew, the genre, the premise and the subject matter. Maybe the special effects, stunts, car chases? Look for all the things in your film that can contribute to various people's (social) life and perform one or all of the roles above. Third and finally, think how you’re going to make it easy and convenient to facilitate all those functions – the sharing, the referring, the debating etc.
Don’t think about it as though you’re selling or promoting the movie: you’re trying to add value to someone’s life by giving them a piece of media that they can use for their purposes. If your media doesn’t do that then its spam.
So, for example, if you’ve got a great car chase or a great stunt, upload that clip to YouTube and find people interested in cars. It doesn’t matter that your film is a crime thriller or a horror and not really about cars at all, it’s got that chase and that clip can form the basis for social interaction – it’s a gift from you to the car community. Avoid at all costs spoiling the video with urls and logos – put that information in the description field. If it looks like an advert then it’ll spoil the value of the gift.
The media needn't be a clip or graphic, it could be an opinion piece, a comment on someone's blog, insider information (gossip) - any form of communication that adds value.
A point to note when uploading to YouTube (and other video sharing sites of course) is to give the video a title that reflects what’s in the clip, not the name of the movie. So in this case, it might be called “Car Chase on Wet Road” – it’s much more likely to be found by people looking for car chases. They’re not going to search for the name of your film because as yet nobody’s heard of it. You can actually see this at work with London Voodoo: a fan, without my knowledge or blessing, ripped the DVD and uploaded a collection of clips titled “Woman Possessed”. His video views far exceeded our “London Voodoo Trailer” because he tapped into the popular search term “possession” and into a subculture of people interested in possessed women.
Now, of course you’ll want a trailer and a poster but these are there to provide further information or increased involvement for anyone who wants to take their interest to the next level.
Please stay tuned for more in subsequent posts. I've started here with the assumption that your movie is already finished but I'd like to discuss how you might approach the project differently from the beginning now that you know this. And I'll discuss the media we created and why it worked and when it didn't.