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Independent Film Making Part III

Release strategies
Distributors generally take six months to a year to launch a film. It is an extremely large and relatively risky commitment on their part. Besides wanting to make a lot of money, you should tell your prospective distributor what kind of advertising commitment you are looking for. Ask them about the marketing strategy they plan to utilize for your film. 

Generally a film will open in New York and Los Angeles the first week and then roll out to other theaters from there. Good performance (i.e. heavy attendance and/or raving reviews) will motivate a distributor to capitalize on their investment and release a film to more and more theaters. Poor performance may send the film quickly back onto the shelf or into the subsidiary markets. 

It is the distributor's advantage to release a film as widely as they possibly can. Most distributors have output deals with home video companies and pay cable broadcasters. The greater visibility the film receives in its theatrical launch, the greater the revenues from home video and PAY-TV to the distributor. Many distributors look to the filmmaker to help with marketing a film. Along with this, because the producer has been with the film from start to finish, their knowledge of the film is much greater than that of the distributor. 

The producer should do whatever they can to get the film marketed correctly. It is very important for the producer to remain involved in the distribution process of the film. The producer could be considered a liaison; the middleman between the people who make the film and the people who market and distribute the film. 

the Sundance film  festival is more than just another movie showcase. It is a market for filmmakers, and Hollywood executives regularly show up with fat checkbooks to buy movies for the upcoming year

A filmmaker who is charismatic, charming, intelligent, and funny can do a great deal to explain the motivation for making the movie to the press. If the filmmaker has an attitude, is rude, or shows up for interviews drunk or late, this will negatively influence the publicity the distributor is trying so desperately to get.

Since most independent films have no stars (although recently more and more big-named actors are working on independent projects), one of the few publicity hooks a distributor has is the filmmaker and his or her personal story. For the 106 feature films on display at Sundance in 2001, the festival is more than just another movie showcase. It is a market for filmmakers, and Hollywood executives regularly show up with fat checkbooks to buy movies for the upcoming year. 

It is the filmmaker's job to help with the follow-through on the marketing of their film and to express to the world how they want the movie to be perceived. There is no correlation between a film's budget and what a distributor will pay for a film. A distributor only looks to answer the question "can I sell the film?" and "for how much?" It is irrelevant to the distributor what the film cost to make. 

The independent feature film market (IFFM) is the largest and most important American independent film festival with screenings of more than 400 features and documentaries each year. It is the festival for first time features. For independent features the top festivals are Telluride, Toronto, New York, and Sundance. This is where you want to be if you are serious about your film. 

Promotion, Publicity & Advertising
Promotion is all the things that you do to generate publicity for your film. You do not pay directly for promotion as opposed to advertising, which you do pay for. Creating some sort of hype for a film before, during, and after production increases its value among distributors. 

Creating the buzz is an important aspect. The acquisition buyers at the distribution companies seek out films based on the buzz. The buzz is created by special screenings, one person telling another how great the film is, and carefully placed tidbits in newspapers and magazines. It is a delicate art. You want to get out there with your film but not so much that it's old news by the time your film is ready for release. 

Promotion and movie marketing create word of mouth, which is by far the most powerful of the persuasive mediums. You are creating perceived value for your film or video. You need to develop an ongoing strategy for publicity and promotion. Still, festivals like Sundance is where buyers see many films for the first time with real audiences, as opposed to being viewed inside private screening rooms. As a result, the hyped-up movies coming into Sundance can fizzle out if audiences don't respond. The Sundance Festival of 2001 continued this trend. Donnie Darko was rumored hot property before the festival started, but by the end of the 11 days the buzz had died and no distribution deal was established.

The good news is that these days, independent, specialized films get more press attention than ever

On the other hand The Believer started out the week with very little buzz, but throughout the festival picked up praise. By the end of the festival, after packed screenings and a lot of praise, the movie was awarded the Grand Jury Prize. Your distributor will spend a large amount of money for a major push of promotion, publicity, and advertising weeks before the film hits the theaters. This is a moment of great risk for the distributor because he may spend 70% of a movie's marketing dollars before the film even has a chance to prove itself in the marketplace. 

The good news is that these days, independent, specialized films get more press attention than ever. Over 500 media journalists attend Sundance each year. The bad news is that there are more independent films vying for attention, all fighting for too little print and television space. Promotion can make the difference between your film becoming successful or not. It's not enough to have made an absolutely brilliant film; people must know that it exists. Without the correct promotion, your film may not find its audience. And although it may be unfavorable to many filmmakers, it is a job that must be done and done well. No promotion, no audience. 

To buy advertising effectively you must know how your target audience gets their information. Teenagers, for example, do not get their movie information from newspapers. Teenagers listen to the radio, watch television, and surf the Internet. Your media advertising must be designed to reach specific audiences. Every film should have its own audience and marketing plan based on the most promotable aspects of the film.

The more precise you can be in your marketing, the better chance you have of attracting an audience that will enjoy your film. If you attract the wrong audience or build expectations that cannot be met, you will create a "negative word of mouth" that will endanger the future of your film. Many people would rather go to a film not knowing what to expect rather than be falsely informed and consequently extremely disappointed.

One of the most memorable movie posters in recent years was the one made for the film American Beauty... The hook was what the poster said, "Look closer." 
Posters are also a form of paid advertising that, when well placed, will bring out an audience for particular kinds of films. When designing either posters or newspaper ads it's important to select a log line, hook line, or single image that best represents your film. It could be a review quote. The graphics should be powerful and immediately recognizable. The copy should be inviting, exciting, and tease an audience into wanting to see the movie. 

One of the most memorable movie posters in recent years was the one made for the film American Beauty. It wasn't necessarily the picture that was the eye catcher, although for some men a woman's navel was intriguing enough. The hook was what the poster said, "Look closer." Ironically, the line had nothing to do with the picture on the poster, although many eyes returned several times to the poster with the thought that they were missing something. 

The line was actually a quote posted on the wall of the cubical in which one of the characters in the film worked. Just these two simple words sparked the interest of thousands of individuals to "Look closer" and view the film. You are looking for a strong reason for people to want to see your film. You are looking to build an expectation or desire in your audience, which your film will fulfill. You are trying to find the best way to communicate to your audience why they should see your film. All forms of media, radio and television spots, theatrical trailers, posters, or newspaper ads have this objective. They must give the audience a compelling reason for seeing your film.

Publicity kits should be handed out to the attending press. This screening should be the most pleasant showcase possible for your film
Press Screenings are an important part of advertising for a film. If you have a distributor, one of their jobs is to set up press screenings for your film. If you are self-distributing, you must try to get the press to come to your screening. Press screenings will allow movie reviewers to see the film and hopefully write a good review for it before it officially opens. Obviously you will want the very best screening room you can find with excellent projection and sound, and comfortable seating. 

Publicity kits should be handed out to the attending press. This screening should be the most pleasant showcase possible for your film. Although it may seem like you are kissing up, providing food, drinks, etc. is all part of the game. Whether you like it or not, these little things may make or break your film. Creating a comfortable viewing atmosphere is step one in the screening process. If the viewers are comfortable and content before the film, they will be ready to take in all the film has to offer rather than being anxious to move around or leave.

 Sometimes several screenings must be scheduled, because the press inevitably won't show even when they say they will. Whenever they do show up, it is crucial for the filmmaker to make the entire experience as enjoyable as possible. Like the old saying goes; you only have one chance to make a good first impression. This goes for the filmmaker as well as the film itself.

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