How to Market an Indie Film

by | Jul 19, 2021 | Blog

The question of how to market an indie film typically defaults to implementations like festivals, ads and platform release rev-shares. But go back to the beginning for a moment to take a business person’s POV of your project. A business 101 would start with what’s the intended value (moral of the story or learning moment) and who’s the audience. You’ve been in the nuts and bolts of filmmaking for a year, or even possibly a decade, so you’re completely in love with what you’ve created, but will the rest of the world be? And as a collaborative, highly iterative product that’s often accomplished as a quest, the end result could be very different from the original intent. So before you get too far over your skis, take a moment to  consider which of three obvious indie film types your piece falls into: art, for-cause or entertainment. Then consider the inherent value and intended audience you’re targeting. Adequate identification of these variables makes marketing strategy easy and logical.

Indie Art Film Marketing

When I was in design school, we were constantly challenged to define the difference between art and design. After many semesters it got drilled into my head that art is more of a personal statement could have an audience but doesn’t have to while design which is more of a creation specifically for a customer. At worse, art film can be viewed as indulgent and omni-directional but at best, if your vision is truly great and well-timed, followers will appear. Art film by this definition isn’t necessarily intentional with respect “marketing” and if the desire is to market a film, it’s likely pivoting into one of the two categories noted below.

Notwithstanding whether your film is art or design, once you have an art film in the can, why not market it? Luckily, most art films are very specific, so it should easy to define a target audience and a value proposition. You could be doing the darkest of dark, anti-mainstream flicks and some group, somewhere, will be like, “Yo, that’s sick.” And as you’ve produced content and cut trailers, you’ve likely become aware of certain interest groups or kinds of individuals that like your stuff. So the simple thing to do is drop in on their conversation. The Internet is your friend here as it’s free to leverage social media groups, chats, hashtags etc. to start assembling groups. You can find anyone, anywhere, anytime individually or in groups for free on the Internet. You might also find target audiences concentrated in geographical locations like Chinese folks in Chinatown. Those are my peeps and I know there’s a Chinatown in just about every town of size on the globe. Make a film about Americans of Chinese descent, then go to Chinatown to round up followers. And once you have followers, booking distribution locations relevant to your proven followers whether it be in a cafe, an indie house or on the Internet. This is known as “Platform Release” and can be done at a microscopic level. So as you proven the viability of your audience, all you have to do is scale as more followers are proven as acquired.

Indie For-Cause Film Marketing

For-cause indies, i.e, films that have missions of righting a wrong or answering an essential question, are often marketed through festivals. But while you might view the goal of going to a festival as getting a distribution deal, you might consider that there are mechanical steps necessary to complete before a distribution deal can happen. To recognize these steps, try stepping into the shoes of the distributor who might ask “who is this film for?”, “What do they get out of it?” and “Can I make money out of distributing it? This is a simple POV exercise, which as a storyteller should be second mature to you, but many filmmakers don’t think to ask/answer these fundamental questions. For example, we all know the viability of documentaries on environmental sustainability, but diving deeper into how your product fits within this category and with whom are your keys to success. Define a target group that cares and there’ll be people to carry banners for you.

Indie Entertainment Film Marketing

Producing an indie is a common strategy for budding artists interested in getting to the blockbuster dance. But if your goal is to be discovered as the next great entertainment film director, you better prove that you have commercializable skills. Entertainment products are not immune to market fundamentals. They need to show value and be relevant to paying target audiences. Commercial productions are expensive and high stakes so specific formulas are done time and time again. Action-adventure. Horror. Romantic comedies. And within these categories, setups and remakes are cloned like there’s no tomorrow. For example, how many action-adventures have you seen where the older down-and-out ex-cop who now has a drinking problem somehow brushes himself off to save the world and get the girl? It’s pretty banal, and sexist, and done time and time again. But it works as there’s a key target (males) and a value proposition in learning how to become a hero, overcome your weaknesses and get the hottie that’s a bit younger than you. So going back to your indie, does it answer the questions of identifying a mass-market audience? And do they get a key value from your story? If so, investors will see the promise and fund festival marketing to get your film up the next rung toward distribution.

Bottomline: decide what kind of story you’re telling and to whom. Do that right and marketing will take care of itself.

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