We get hit up with the "how are you going to market our film" question every once in a while. While a festival should always be hustling to put butts in seats, filmmakers should realize that they are not powerless. A festival should be part of a continuum, not just a beginning point. Here's some things to do right now. Things that can be useful even if you don't get accepted.
- For every city you've submitted a film to, contact at least 10 to 15 groups that would be interested in your film. Tell them about your film, tell them why they should be interested. Tell them you'd like to have them involved in someway if the film is or isn't accepted in their city.
- Identify the one group you'd like to partner with most. Start building up a relationship.
- Leverage your current relationships to see if there are contacts they already have, or knowledge they can share about other cities (most useful for Docs with experts in their films).
- Identify the local websites, blogs and forums that would be interested in your film. Start posting about the film. Leverage your niches.
- Search and see what press writes about your topic and how often. Search and see what they write about films period. Knowing even a little of what is and isn't covered can assist in filling the gaps. It can also help you refine what to pitch to a paper so they'll consider writing about your film.
- Don't ignore the trickle down effect of national blogs that cover niches and topics. Be you a narrative or documentary, if you have a strong core story about aging, a website on aging is much more likely to write about you and someone on the local level who follows that blog may be more likely to read about it.
- Use the 30 day rule. Almost no one can get anything done if they don't have it in their hands 30 days before.
- Most press will NOT write about your film till they've seen it. If you're not going to allow preview copies to go out to press you'll need a hook for why they'll write about your film sight unseen. If you don't have major, major buzz coming in, aren't local, a huge star, or cover a topic of interest to the paper, the chances of getting a write-up is pretty much null.
- Even if you send preview copies, even if they watch it and like the film, most press aren't going to write about most of the films they are sent unless you are one of these things: Local. Cover a topic of major interest to the paper's readers. Have a huge star that even your grandmother and her grandson knows her name. Have major buzz.
- TV coverage is becoming more and more impossible--although it's realistically always been impossible--to get regardless of the town you are in. Even if you get it, expect to be up at the crack ass of dawn on morning shows, or be on the evening news, and in both cases maybe 3 or 4 minutes is the best you'll get. Even if you get on, you may or may not be speaking to your core audience. Your hip audience may not be up at 6 in the morning. So don't count on it and don't count on it to be a major plank of your promotions if you're lucky enough to get it.
- Most outlets have gotten smaller in the last 10 years, with many using syndicated columns for film reviews. Do not expect a press onslaught to be at your screening. While members of the press may want to come, they've often moved onto their next stories and columns because they have more on their to do list.
- Because of decreased staff sizes, if an outlet is going to do major coverage, they tend to do it in one huge block. One-offs are increasingly rare. If you aren't added to the overall coverage, you're probably not going to get it all.
- Decreased staff sizes does not mean decreased sections. Many outlets have specialized sections to add coverage on everything including religion, family, couples, kids and by even local industry. Look beyond the lifestyle/entertainment sections and be pitching to them as well.
- Documentaries are generally easier for outlets to find something topical to write about than Narratives. Duh, yes. Needs to be said, YES.
- The more your Narrative feature doesn't include or target a paper's target audience, the less likely they'll write about it. Sorry, but your tale of 20-somethings may be of little interest to a paper whose core readership is mostly over the age of 40.
I write all this not to dissuade you. I write this in the hopes you'll wisely start thinking now about what are the marketing and press challenges for your films and you'll start figuring out to get around them now. Don't wait till you're two weeks out from a festival to get frustrated that you keep hitting roadblocks. Many of these obstacles can be anticipated with a little bit of research. Research that you can hopefully apply to other festivals, your marketing plans post festival and on your next set of films.