How to market your indie film or documentary

by Jonathan Brun

I have no experience in the movie industry, have never made a movie, and probably couldn’t make one either. But, I recently had an interesting email exchange with the creators of the documentary Buck. I contacted them to outline my frustration at trying to watch the movie in Canada. The movie had been on the festival circuit for many months, and was available on DVD in the United States, but it was not available in Canada. On their website, they mention a number of screenings in Canada, none of which were in MontrĂ©al.

Due to my frustration, I ended up illegally downloading the film to watch it. In this blog post, I plan to lay out my thoughts on how film makers can more effectively market their documentary or small indie film.

Let’s face it, the industry’s distribution model is completely broken – it is based in a world where the Internet does not exist. Film makers must fix their marketing strategy so that they can increase revenues and facilitate financing for future films.

1. Don’t waste 80% of your marketing budget!

Movies spend most of their advertising budget in the run up to the theatrical release. But ,by the time the film is ready for distribution on iTunes, NetFlix, and other large scale platforms – the public has forgotten your ads.

Time your advertising with easy access to your film. Since the best way to distribute your movie today is through online systems, not theatres, your marketing budget for online and theatrical release should be adjusted accordingly. Obviously leverage social media for promotion – Facebook, Twitter, etc.

You could also release the film online from the start to maximize exposure from reviews and critical acclaim.

2. Don’t release your film by country, eh!

With the internet, it’s insane to try and stagger your releases by country. When someone in Canada has to wait months to see your US movie, they will inevitably turn to a pirated copy, I did.

Most of your marketing will and should be done online. Because online marketing can easily link to a purchase or rental of your film, it seems wise to ensure it is available everywhere simultaneously. Because the producers of the Matrix 2 knew their audience was tech savvy and would pirate the film; they decided to release it globally at the same time. It worked.

3. Theatres no longer guarantee a better viewing experience

The traditional argument for releasing to theatres has been that the theatre provides the most authentic experience of the film as intended by the creators. In 2011, millions of homes have amazing HD TVs, surround sound and great seating: the theatre -quality argument seems weaker by the day.

As a side note, the move to 3D films in theatres has clearly been to keep consumers coming out to theatres, theatre companies are very aware of this HD TV issue. For traditional 2D movies and especially films that play in smaller artistic theatres, the home often provides a higher quality experience than the theatre.

It all boils down to this: someone has to break the control theatres and distributors have on movie creators. I understand the prestige of releasing your film in theatres, but if your goal is to have as many people as possible pay to see it; theatres are no longer the best approach.

Film production costs have been dramatically reduced thanks to HD cameras and high power computers. Filmmakers have un-rivalled distribution channels to millions of people; yet, they still seem set on the old model of festivals and theatres.

Your goal as a movie creator should be to earn a healthy living and have your film enjoyed by as many people see it as possible, not to get awards and help movie theatres. Simply stated, I think movie creaters should bypass the existing distribution traps, market your film directly to your audience, and retain ownership of the entire process.

It took the music industry a decade and billions of dollars to learn this lesson, how long will it take the film industry?

If you have not read the Long Tail by Marc Anderson of Wired magazine, please do.