In the current independent film scene, filmmakers are expected to do much of the marketing of their own films. Since the goals for a short film are often different than for a feature — with learning the craft and gaining exposure often trumping making a profit and securing your next project — short filmmaking is the perfect time to build up all of your skills for larger projects to come.
In part 1 of this article, I covered planning out your marketing strategy and the individual steps you can take during pre-production and production to get your marketing campaign off to a strong start.
For a short, the majority of the marketing prep you’ll do for your release will happen during post-production. You captured what you needed on set, have a plan to work from and at this point you’ll bring it all together and start building out your full marketing package.
Each item you create will be a small project unto itself. Research best practices for each step and apply those to your project, always keeping your specific audience in mind.
Website & Email Newsletter
With all of the attention placed on social media these last years, the film website has been given a backseat to building a presence on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. But as more of us are discovering, the effort we put into driving an audience to our social pages is more often building an ongoing audience for the social media companies than for ourselves.
Social media is still an excellent first point of contact, but once you’ve connected, have a robust website to drive your audience to for more information and opportunities to stay engaged.
• Content: Visit tons of film websites and see what sparks for you and what doesn’t. Take note of any clichés you’ll want to avoid. Trailers, posters, bios, photos, screening info and behind-the-scenes videos are all great content for film fans.
• Search engine optimization: When writing content, think about the keywords you want your site to rank highly for on search engines, such as the film’s genre, film festivals where you’re screening, actors in your film, your shooting location, subject matter, etc, and build those terms into the copy, photo titles, page titles, descriptions, and even domain name.
• Website maintenance: Build a website you can update yourself. There are many types of DIY website services and make your selection based on your personal skill level. Regularly update your site with new festival screenings info, press hits and the latest news about the film. Remember, the design should serve the content, not the other way.
• Email list and newsletter: AKA My Holy Grail of Online Marketing. If you think that statement is hyperbole, try to envision each passing year as you’re building your audience as social media sites come and go, and news outlets come and go, and film festivals come and go… Your email list will be your only constant.
Personally, I have zero tolerance for anything but a fully opt-in list. I know many will disagree and suggest you build your list by adding all of your email contacts right out of the gate and then add every person you meet who hands you a business card or shares their email address. And they’re right, that’s the fastest way to do it.
But you know what? I think that’s douchey. Most of those people don’t want to be on your list and you’re counting on their embarrassment of knowing you’ll see them unsubscribe to keep them from doing so. A list of 100 people who truly opt-in will have a much more positive response to your mailing than 1000 people who get it and immediately trash it.
Instead of sneaking people onto your list, incentivize them. Offer actual content in your newsletter targeted to your audience. Offer something valuable for free in exchange for signing up.
In my case, to encourage sign ups, I offer one short film completely for free online (no sign up necessary), and if you like it, you can sign up for a second short that is only available to my subscribers. My list is small overall, but each time I mail to it I get a high rate of people who contact me to chat about something they read in the newsletter. That’s genuine engagement and how I choose to build my audience.
For your trailer, you’ll need to strike that balance between making it awesome and not spending a lot of money on it. Here are a few tips to do that:
• Keep it short: It’s a short film, it doesn’t need a three-minute trailer. A 30-second trailer can absolutely work.
• Use the same editor who cut your film: On a feature, you may hire a trailer specialist but that’s a major investment for a short. Make it as easy as possible on your editor: Create the trailer concept, mock up a storyboard, find a section of your film that works as a voiceover… anything to give your editor a hand in cutting a quick and cool trailer for you.
• Or cut it yourself: I personally love Producers Joke and Biagio’s take on this: “Steal This Editing Secret to Edit Film and Video Like a Pro.” For a short film trailer, you don’t need to make it more complicated than that.
Get thee a page and completely flesh it out with content — it’s the go-to place for your consumer audience when they want to learn more about your film. And your cast and crew will definitely care about getting their credits on IMDb.
Create an online press kit where you house all of your promotional materials and you can quickly and cheaply share links to them with the press and film festivals.
• Publicity stills: Focus on great photos that represent the scenes and tone of your film. You can include some behind-the-scenes pictures but your most valuable publicity stills will represent the film itself, not the film’s production.
• Director’s headshot: As long as the photo is high enough resolution to be printed, anything from an actor’s-style headshot to the director on set to the director relaxing in her “natural environment” seems to work. This photo will influence how the director is perceived, so decide if you’re going for a quirky, arty image or more of an in-charge and professional look.
And I assume you know, no selfies.
• Press Release: Full disclosure, I have never written a press release for one of my short films. I’m reluctant to put my time into marketing or publicity if I don’t have to and I haven’t yet needed a press release for a short.
That said, if you want one, go for it. Research the format and find the story in your film (this is not what your film is about, but the story that makes your film press-worthy). If you write a press release, of course include it in your press kit, and if you decide to go after publicity for your film (which warrants a whole separate topic from this article) then you’ll already have the release ready to go.
• Poster image: Anticipate that your poster will most often be viewed online and don’t pre-print posters — especially at full theatrical size — unless you have a specific need for them. In the short film world, you may never have use for more than 11×17” color print-outs.
Film festival tip: I do print one full-size poster through a DIY printing service, such as Kinko’s, and have them spray-mount it onto a foam core board. I then travel to film festivals with that poster and a lightweight, foldable easel. I’ve never needed more than one full-size poster per short film.
• Links for more information: Include these links right in the informational portion of your press kit. Include links to your trailer, website, social media sites, downloads (e.g. stills and poster) and anything else you’ve created that is housed online.
• Contact information: Self-explanatory but often forgotten.
Press kit samples: You can find examples from my own short films on my website, plus you can search online and find a ton of other samples.
Postcards and Business Cards
If you’re not immediately releasing your short film online, and instead going the film festival route, consider having a few items on hand for in-person marketing at screenings.
You can create postcards for your film and business cards for yourself. Or you can combine them and have a film postcard that includes your contact info or a business card that promotes your film. I’ve seen them all and they all work just fine. When you attend festivals, pick up samples of other filmmakers’ marketing materials and you’ll quickly figure out what style you prefer yourself.
You’ll find more film festival marketing tips in my two-part piece on taking your short to festivals.
Final Tip: Be an active marketing partner to every film festival, journalist, reviewer, distributor, etc, who steps up to the plate to promote your film.
If they are willing to share their own hard-won audiences with you, show them you not only appreciate it, but will capitalize on their efforts and drive your audience to them as well. These relationships have been the biggest successes in my marketing efforts bar none. And it’s here, in building these relationships within the industry and with your early audiences, where you will truly begin building your career.
Now, let’s get out there and make our films, connect them with audiences, live la vida loca, and then do it all over again. That’s certainly my plan!
If you missed part one: Marketing Your Short Film, Part 1