For many beginner writer-directors, short films are an ideal way to dive into the art and craft of directing. The stakes are much lower than with a feature film, allowing you to experiment and learn from your mistakes, without risking too much capital or your budding reputation.
Just as a short can offer creative freedom for trial and error, it also gives you the chance to practice marketing a film so you can head into your first feature with experience under your belt.
When I made my first short, I already had marketing experience due to my previous work in book publishing. Even so, I knew nothing about marketing a film.
What I did know was if I could put together a basic checklist of what I needed to create, and then a timeline for building it all, I could research the do’s and dont’s of each step and hopefully have it all figured out by the end.
I did my research and created a rough marketing plan for my film. I rolled it out, test drove it in the real world, learned my lessons and then got to try it all over again with my second short.
For this two-part piece, I’ll share my process for marketing a short, and you can adjust and supplement based on the specifics of your film. By the end, I hope you’ll feel ready to jump in with your own marketing plan and not get just this one film to the right audience, but also gain the knowledge to successfully match your work with an audience for many films to come.
You’ll need to plan how you will market your film early in the filmmaking process. Ask yourself the following questions at the beginning of pre-production (or near the end of script development) to start building your marketing strategy.
Who is your target audience?
Be specific. Once you have an answer, try to drill down further and be even more specific.
I understand the instinct is to want the largest possible audience for your film and narrowing it down seems to accomplish the opposite. But it doesn’t. Instead, it allows you to understand who are the people most predisposed to want to see your film. This is your core audience and once they are on board, they will be crucial supporters in helping you to expand to the next tiers of potential audience.
For example, Horror film fans are a large and diverse group. Is your film more likely to attract teens who like a good slasher flick or thirty-somethings who love a suspenseful ghost story?
This difference is important when you’re deciding where to put your social networking efforts (these groups tend not to socialize in the same places) and what kind of tone you want to use throughout your marketing campaign.
Audience Tip: For your first short film, the bulk of interest in your work may come from other filmmakers. Don’t take this group for granted. We are each other’s first audience, are fascinated by the filmmaking process, and love talking about movies to an embarrassing degree. Consider bringing other filmmakers into the fold as a first step toward learning how to bring a consumer audience to your work.
Will you be crowdfunding?
If you’re crowdfunding during script development or pre-production, you will in essence need to plan for two marketing campaigns — one to crowdfund and then one to promote the final film.
If you’re not crowdfunding, you can spread out the work a bit more and begin your social media marketing in pre-production, capture still and video content in production, and then build out the rest of your marketing materials in post.
Who will be on your marketing team?
The first person to get a commitment from is the producer of your film. While a feature film producer would expect to be there from development through distribution, a short film producer may see their role as limited to getting you through production or post-production.
If you want your producers to be involved in marketing, address your expectations at the hiring stage and be sure they understand you are looking to partner with them for the full lifecycle of the film.
After your producer, you’ll be looking for those in your circle who have special skills (e.g. graphic design, photography) and those who have a strong social media following and are willing to champion your film.
Design Tip: A graphic designer is an invaluable ally to have. If you don’t have the budget to pay a designer their full rate, try to find one who has never made a film poster but would love to add one to their portfolio. They may be willing to barter with you to do so. Never underestimate the value of professional design when it comes to enhancing your credibility.
What will you need to capture on set to support your marketing efforts?
In pre-production, you need to plan out what marketing pieces you intend to create and what stills or videos you’ll need to capture on set to make them.
For instance, if you want to avoid a floating head poster, come up with your poster concept before you shoot the film and then incorporate a quick photo shoot into your production schedule using your on set photographer.
It’s hard enough to coordinate everyone’s schedules to shoot the film, you’ll be surprised how tough it is to pull off a separate photo shoot after you’ve wrapped.
What’s your social media strategy?
Based on the answers to who is your audience, connect with that audience on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ or wherever that audience hangs out.
Unless you’re crowdfunding and rolling out your marketing in two phases, the goal at this stage isn’t to start hard selling your soon-to-be-made film. Your goal should be to learn as much as possible about this audience:
- Listen and learn before you jump in so you’ll know the social norms for engaging with this group.
- Engage as yourself — as a person, a filmmaker, a film fan… anything but as a marketer. They will be interested in you, not your agenda.
- Get to know who the influencers are in this group and how you can connect with them.
- Find out where this audience gets their news from, especially film-related news.
- Treat them with humility and respect — remember, you need them, they don’t need you.
Facebook Tip: As of the writing of this article, I can’t in good faith recommend you rely on a Facebook Page to get the word out about your film. Facebook changed their algorithm so that most Pages for smaller companies are almost completely blocked out from being seen in a user’s Timeline — even though they Liked the Page — unless the company pays Facebook to “boost” the post.
If your audience is predominantly on Facebook, and remember it does skew a touch older these days, you’ll want to consider using your personal profile page for work. I haven’t had any trouble sharing info via my personal page and having it reach most of my Friends, but when I do the same through a company Page, I’m lucky if I reach a tenth of the people who Liked it.
If you’re directing this film, probably the last thing you’ll want to think about during production is marketing. And I agree, you shouldn’t be worrying about marketing when you should instead be focused on shooting your film.
This is where all of your planning in pre-production comes in. While on set, hand off marketing duties to your producer and the collaborators you’ve lined up to capture everything you’ll need before you wrap.
On-set photography and videography
The First Assistant Director on your crew should know in advance who will be coming to your set to work as the photographer and/or videographer, especially if you’ll need to schedule in time with actors for photo shoots and on-camera interviews.
One-sheet for “Vivienne Again” created using photos shot specifically for the poster during on-set production.
Set expectations ahead of time with the on set photographer to ensure you get what you need. Behind-the-scenes shots are fun but I’ve found they have limited use beyond sharing through social media. You’ll want to capture them to use in that capacity, of course, but they are not all that you’ll need.
What you’ll use again and again are stills reflecting the actual scenes and shots in your film with the actors in costume, on location, and in character. These images can be used as your publicity stills, and since they’re high-resolution shots (as opposed to the screenshots you’ll end up using otherwise, as I did), they are perfect for both print and web.
The effort you put into engaging with your audience online will start to really pay off in Production. This is a great time to let your film take center stage in your conversations. It’s a lot more enticing when you say, “Hey guys, I’m making a film!” if you can offer on set photos and filmmaking war stories to go along with your enthusiasm for your own work.
Keep in mind, even though social media seems like it’s just free marketing, there is an intangible social currency that you’ll eat through quickly if you’re just out there beating your own drum.
Focus on the quality of your message and offer something to your audience in exchange for them listening to you talk about your film. Don’t just broadcast at them and think that’s enough to gain and keep their interest. Otherwise, by the time you release your film, they’ll already be sick of hearing about it, and that’s the time when you’ll need them to be most excited about your work.
For the second part of this article, I’ll dive into the details of what you’ll create in post-production, including a press kit, poster, and trailer, to get ready for that incredible moment when you can announce that you have completed your film.
Marketing might sound like a necessary evil now, but once you complete your film you will be so grateful to have a full marketing toolbox at your fingertips to help get your film out into the world.
Not to mention, it’s the most amazing moment when you finally get to hang up a poster from your own movie on your office wall. Seriously, best feeling ever!