Sean Mannion is the founder or 4MileCircus a Brooklyn-based production and production services company. Among their services they offer consulting on digital marketing and social media for artists and filmmakers. The following strategies for digital marketing are based on training they’ve provided clients and the current strategy he’s employing for the four wall tour of his feature film, Meme.
You’ve finished your film! Congratulations! Now you need to get people to watch it! That’s where marketing come in. Despite what you may want to believe, just because you built it doesn’t mean they’ll come. You’re going to have to tell people about it. Luckily we live in this marvelous digital age and we don’t have to resort to driving to independent video stores and selling our tapes to them out of the backs of our Buicks (but how fun does that sound?).
The first reality you need to face about marketing your film is that it’s best to start early. Ideally, film marketing starts before you start shooting and continues throughout the process. If you’re an independent filmmaker, one of your major audiences is other independent filmmakers. Transparency throughout your process is going to be your friend when it comes to your film marketing strategies. Whether you’re starting your film or you just wrapped post, get started with the basics we cover here.
We are taking a broad look at film marketing strategies here. We will address branding and defining your audience; making a website; how to approach social media, press; video hosting; paid advertising; film festivals; and even leveraging real world interactions.
Branding and Audience for Your Film
Before we dive into specifics, take a minute to consider branding. Your film’s branding may evolve as you learn more about your audience and what they respond to, but to get started you need to get a sense of how you want to present it and what elements you want to foreground.
First among these branding concerns is the title of the film. Whatever you named the film should be a major part of how you name the accounts you create. That includes your website and any social media accounts. Name them after the film so that people looking for your film on those platforms can easily find it and so that people who stumble across your film can easily remember the name of the film when they go looking for it elsewhere.
The second consideration is your audience. Who do you think is going to like your film? What does a typical audience member for your film look like in terms of age, education level, and other interests? This will drive a lot of your choices about platforms to use for your marketing.
When setting up the accounts on various platforms described below, if graphics aren’t your thing, try services like Adobe Spark or Canva to help you with creating easy and affordable header images, profile images, and other graphics.
Don’t Forget Personal Branding
As you think about digital marketing for your film, you should also think about digital marketing for yourself as a filmmaker! This will help you build your brand between films and thus drive people to your films. Plus, if the digital marketing for your film goes well, people will want to know who’s behind it—that’s you! We’re going to focus this guide on film marketing strategies, but a lot of the recommendations below are applicable to you, too. As you’re making a website and social profiles for your film, consider making them for yourself, too, if you haven’t already. Don’t be shy!
Making a Website for Your Film
Having a film that doesn’t have a website of its own, or at the very least a dedicated page on your personal or production company website, is a missed opportunity for building your audience. Today getting a website setup is very simple and, relatively speaking, inexpensive.
At the bare minimum your website should have a synopsis of the film, a list of key cast and crew, a representative image like a poster for the film, and information on if or when people may be able to watch the film.
Ideally, when you’re marketing the release of your film, you should have all of those things plus a trailer for the film; links to where people can watch it; links to any press you’ve gotten for the film; your press kit to share with said press when you’re pitching your film to be covered by them; behind the scenes photos; production stills; a blog that at minimum is announcing screenings, festival acceptances, and release dates; and anything else that might entice potential viewers. You might also consider a newsletter signup form so you can alert interested parties of screenings down the line. Mailchimp is great for this, and provides an easy-to-embed form.
Where You Can Setup a Website
You can setup your website with any number of services. Some popular Content Management Systems (CMS) for building websites for films include:
- Wordpress – a mature platform that is in use by a significant number of sites (33% of the internet!). The least expensive option, starting at $5/month at WordPress.com. It’s free to download and install on another host server, if you’re technically inclined…but compared to the options below, it requires more tech savviness.
- Squarespace – another mature platform but with a drag and drop interface that is more comfortable for those who are less technically inclined. Very easy to use, sleek looking, and great customer service. Starts at $12/month.
- Wix – a slightly newer option with an easy to use drag and drop interface. Starts at $11/month.
You’ll need to register a domain name for your project, too. If possible, get the title of your film. If you can’t do that, try the title of your film plus “film” or “-film,” “thefilm,” “-thefilm,” “movie,” “themovie,” or some similar variation. Whatever you choose here, try to keep it consistent with your social handles!
WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace services offer for you to register your domain name, but you may also want to try Domain.com.
Social Media for Your Film
Social Media is a tricky beast to tame. What platforms to use and how to use them really varies a lot depending on your personal preferences and where the audience might live for your project. There is a good argument for having at least a presence on the three major platforms Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Some people don’t trust Facebook, some don’t understand Twitter. In my opinion, you should use all three, but Instagram is the most vital tool because it’s visually oriented and where a lot of filmmakers, and film fans, hang out.
As stated above, you should ideally get started with this before your film is complete. Especially Instagram. Your fellow filmmakers would love to see you share your behind-the-scenes antics!
Social media is a great starting point for building on audience without spending money, but remember it’s really just a starting point.
If you search for best practices or how to use various social media platforms you’ll find a lot of results. In the end when you dig through it all and evaluate what everyone has to say it comes down to three factors:
- Quality – You need to be posting quality content.
- Consistency – You need to post consistently.
- Community – You need to be approaching the platform you’re using as a community that you are participating in.
So, your best practices for social media are post content that’s valuable to the community beyond your own desire to advertise your film. Share about your film. Be transparent about process and celebrate your collaborators. Share cool looking behind-the-scenes shots or production still. Articles or information about topics relevant to your film from other platforms are also useful for sharing. Share the successes of others in the community. Makes sure to share all of this consistently, which doesn’t mean hourly, daily, weekly, or any other specific timing, just that if you start sharing behind-the-scenes photos from set on your Instagram on shoot days, don’t skip a shoot, make sure that people who follow you can expect something from you and it will help keep your film in their mind.
The most important best practice is really to remember that social media is intended to be social. It’s intended to be something you’re an active participant in, not something you’re broadcasting to. To that end, being positive and not being a jerk tend to go far.
Instagram should be in your plan for digital marketing as a filmmaker. It is full of your fellow indie filmmakers and they are going to be some of the first people to notice your film and be an audience for your film beyond the people who worked on it and your friends and family. So, get them hooked early with a strong Instagram presence.
Your Instagram strategy starts with your profile. Choose a profile name that matches your website URL. Include your logline for the film and the current production status in the description. Link to your website. As with everything here, if you can get started before production begins, even better.
Your Instagram posting should be focused on your project. If you’re getting started during pre-production, share teasing shots of the script, wardrobe tests, make-up tests, photos of crew or cast prepping, and so on. During production get photos of people setting up for shots, actors rehearsing, the slate, cool gear you’re using, cool props and other things that you might find interesting if you were scrolling Instagram. When you hit post-production share the timeline of the project in the editing platform your editor is using, show us your editor diligently cutting, the film, show your sound mixer getting that footstep just right, show screenshots from the color grade, and anything else that might entice people to want to know more about the project. Once you’re headed out to festivals or distribution, share poster images and trailers and go back share more from pre-production, production, and post.
The idea is to give as many people as possible a hook to get interested in your project. Not everyone is interested in the same parts of a film. So, share what you’re doing and let the audience find you.
Leveraging Instagram Features
Beyond the typical feed posts, experiment with the more temporary posts to Instagram Stories and Instagram Live to try and build more interactivity with your audience. Share a tour of a cool location on Instagram Live and tell the people watching what you’ll be shooting that day. Alternatively, share an update from film festival’s you’re attending.
One thing that helps immensely with Instagram and building your audience is hashtagging. Hashtag every post. You have up to 30 hashtags. Use as many of them as you reasonably can. You don’t have to have 30 on every post if you start adding irrelevant tags or tags no one else uses, it won’t help you much. Include hashtags related to indie film, the stage of production you’re in, related to the person/gear/prop that is the subject of the photo, and hashtags related to the location.
Another thing you really should do with Instagram is set it up as a business profile. A business profile gives you access to metrics to track performance and the ability to schedule your Instagram posts from third party services. In order to have an Instagram business profile you need to link the Instagram account to your Facebook account and a Facebook page dedicated to your film.
Facebook for filmmakers can be rough if you’re not already very active and have a lot of people you interact with. What it comes down to is Facebook pages for films have some reach but many people who choose to “like” the page, will never see your posts. Outreach on Facebook from your page, for your film, can be difficult.
Facebook is most useful for marketing your film as first a place for people who are looking for your film to find it. It’s a popular platform. If people hear about you or your film, they will come looking for you on Facebook. So, even if Facebook isn’t a major part of how you want to market the film, it helps to have a page and to keep it active enough someone looking for the film has something to work with. Also, as stated, you need a Facebook Page to have an Instagram Business profile and open up more Instagram features.
Make sure when people visit the page they have something to look at. Have a strong representative image for the page’s profile photo and a strong image for the page’s header image. You can also use a video, for example your film’s trailer, in the place of the page’s header image. Fill out all of the Page’s about section.
Your presence on Facebook may not be about directly promoting from your page. Try and share to your Facebook Page for the film with some regularity but understand you may not see strong results. Participating in Facebook Groups and sharing your content to those communities can bring you better results as far as outreach about your film. Facebook’s Events function is also really helpful for organizing around your screenings and raising awareness of them.
Twitter can be a very useful tool, but it’s not for everyone. It’s at least helpful to have a Twitter for your film, so if anyone is looking for it, they can find it. As with the other platforms, if you use Twitter have a complete profile with strong representative images for the header and profile photo.
Twitter is important to think of as an ongoing conversation. It is a cocktail party where you can dip into and out of any particular topic people are discussing. That means that just showing up and asking people to watch your film or your trailer or anything else isn’t going to get you far. Participate in the conversation. It’s particularly important on Twitter to be sharing relevant interesting content from other sources. Share about the inspirations for the film, articles about related topics, and the other projects from people who worked on your film. Help spread the word about other cool projects.
Beyond just sharing links and re-sharing and talking about your project, just look at what people are talking about Twitter and chime in. During Oscar season talk about your favorite movie of the year that is nominated. If someone is sharing they’re watching one of your favorite movies, tell them how much you love it. When someone has a question about something you know about, help them out.
The best strategy for Twitter is to be conversational. Yes, you should be regularly sharing updates about the film and talking about the film. With that, though, you should just be participating without trying to sell anyone. Just chime in on a conversation or react to people without mentioning the film. They’ll check out the profile and if they want to engage with you about the film, they will.
There are plenty of other platforms out there you could potentially work with like Pinterest, Tumblr, or Mastodon. Unless you’re already very active on them or they are particularly relevant to your film, you don’t need to really have a presence on them.
When there is an event around your film, even if you’re not using it to sell tickets or get RSVPs for the event itself Eventbrite can be useful for getting attention of people looking for an event to attend in the area you’re hosting the event. While it’s not a social media platform exactly, it can directly link to your Facebook Page and you can connect a Facebook Event with an Eventbrite event and use that to drive tickets or RSVPs.
Scheduling is Your Friend
When it comes to all three major platforms, the ability to schedule your promotional posts ahead of time is a huge help. This is built into Facebook Pages, so you can schedule any post you set up on the page. For Twitter and Instagram you need to use third party services. These services will often also interface with Facebook, so they can give you a one stop shop for scheduling your social media posts. Some good third party tools include
Scheduling should not be the only way you participate on these social media platforms, though. Use it to make sure you’re doing your promotion so you can spend time on the platforms interacting and participating in the communities.
For more on how to better use Social Media as a filmmaker try Julie Keck and Jessica King’s Book: Social Media Charm School
PR, Press, and Reviews for Your Film
People talking about your film is a benefit to you. Any film website, reviewer, or podcaster has their own audience they are trying to reach and some of that audience can become your audience.
Reach out to press that’s relevant to your film. There are plenty of film related sites available. Most lean on reviews. Take a look at Twitter and see what film reviewers have active profiles and note what their site is and appropriate ways of contacting them.
How to Find Press
Another way to look for people who may want to cover your film is to leverage IMDB and that it lists online Critic Reviews for films. Go to films like yours or that your producer, director of photography, or lead actors worked on and reach out to every critic who wrote about those films pitching your film and mentioning the connection between your film and the one you found on IMDB.
If you’re having a public screening, whether at a festival or for another reason, reach out to as many local press options as you can find and pitch your screening to them as something worth covering. Give them an option to watch the film ahead of the screening in case they would like to review it or watch it ahead of talking to you about the screening. There is a temptation to just send a press release to these publications. Don’t do that. Find a specific person at the publication who has covered screenings or the venue you’re screening at and contact them directly, if you can. Use their name and point to how you found them. It’s harder to ignore a personalized email than it is to ignore press release. A phone call, if you are so motivated, is even harder to ignore.
How to Utilize Press
Reaching out to press and reviews can also open you up to negative press and reviews. That sucks. I get it. You put so much time and effort–and so many other people put so much time and effort–into your film that people disliking it can be tough to hear. Take a deep breath. Have a good cry about it. Rant about how they’re terrible to your best friend. Then, accept that it takes all kinds to make a world, or different strokes for different folks, or there’s no such thing as bad press, or whatever other aphorism helps you and move on.
Regardless of the press is good or bad, share it. Press is good content for all of your digital marketing channels. Retweet, share, or link to that press. Tag the writer and the platform. It’s useful on social media in particular because it’s not exactly promoting your film, it’s promoting someone who is talking about your film. There’s value to that in terms of piquing people’s interest. Even share the bad reviews. Maybe not as often, but share them. If there’s something particularly complimentary in some press, put it in a trailer for the film.
A few examples of sites you can reach out to to get coverage on your film are:
You likely won’t need to worry about video hosting until reach post-production at the earliest. Eventually, though, you should choose where you’ll be uploading videos to allow them to be easily searchable, shareable, and embeddable. The two major platforms for this are Vimeo and YouTube and they have different advantages.
Vimeo is very independent filmmaker and videographer friendly and it always has been. It’s geared towards giving you a good looking experience of managing your videos. The community is smaller than YouTube’s but it’s more likely to be interested in your independent film. Vimeo also has Vimeo OTT a way for you to rent or sell your film directly to your audience.
YouTube is much much bigger. You could get a much larger potential audience from YouTube and you may experience greater discoverability. At the same time your trailer, behind-the-scenes clip, or film is competing for attention on the platform with videos of cute goats doing weird things. In the end you may not have the results you want from that.
Social media is the free way to try and build your audience. The cost is time. That can only go so far both due to your own ability to commit time and the platforms own algorithms that decide who gets to see your content. So, sometimes you pay to get your work seen.
There are a lot of ways to advertise your film on digital platforms. In the end you should focus any paid advertising on encouraging people to take an action similar to what they are already doing on that platform.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram ads tend to work best for raising awareness beyond your current audience. Get more people to see your trailer or poster and ask them to visit your site to learn more about the film is probably going to give you the best results on those platforms. Paying to boost an event, like a film festival screening, can also give you good results. You don’t have to invest a lot in these platforms to get some traction. A little can go a long way. Utilize the targeting of interests and demographic information to your advantage. You’re not just looking for people who are interested in film but people who might be interested in things that your film is about. Use the tools on these platforms to get their attention with paid post boosting.
Beyond Social Media Advertising
Beyond your social media options you can often also pay to have a calendar listing shown more prominently on community calendars on local news websites. This can be helpful for promoting events around your film, if the audience for your film uses those sites.
When you’re trying to drive people to watch a film or attend a screening YouTube Ads can be particularly useful. Upload a trailer for your film, it doesn’t even have to be public, set it up on your YouTube channel as an unlisted video. Then on Google Ads set up your campaign using that video and target relevant regions and demographics. People are on YouTube to watch videos, so advertising another video to them could be an effective method of building the audience for your film, if you target the right people.
Resources on Social Media Advertising:
Submit to Film Festivals
Another great way to get your film seen is to get it in the film festival circuit! This is it’s own beast, so we’re not going to get into it here, but check out our list of film festival deadlines with more information on this.
We focused on digital marketing in this post, but when it comes down to it, meeting and talking to people in real life, out in the big scary world, is one of your best tools for marketing your film. If you got into a film festival, go to it. Participate in Q&As. Attend other screenings. If your friend or someone else has a screening, go to that and talk about how great that film is. Go and be a person who people want to get to know and support in their projects. These people will follow you on social media, visit your website, and share your film with their friends and network.
In the end, the internet is a cacophony of people yearning for other people’s limited time and attention. Going out into the world and meeting people and talking to people is the best way to focus some of that time and attention on you and your film. Hosting/attending/participating in events is also something you can feature on your marketing channels. The real life space and the internet can feed each other.
Film marketing is all about finding and connecting with your audience. The sooner you start, the more you can experiment and the more you can learn about your audience. You can build recognition for your film well ahead of when you’re soliciting for people to watch it, so the first time they hear about it isn’t when you’re trying to get them to pay to see it.
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