Marketing an independent film is the key to successful distribution, which in turn is the key to making a living as a filmmaker. Successful filmmakers generate a return on their investors’ money, and this allows the filmmaker to find financing for the next project and the next project and every project after that. The same basic rules that govern a typical independent film also apply to an art film. But while many independent films are concept-driven, genre pieces, the art film is that quiet, thoughtful step-child that can be easily lost among the crowd of louder, more insistent children.
Typically without a high concept or huge marketing push to generate hype, the art film requires a more subtle approach to marketing. The main tools for a successful art film marketing campaign are critical reviews and positive word-of-mouth.
The typical patron of art films is more discerning than the average moviegoer. Usually these viewers place a greater emphasis on critical opinions. An Ebert or Roeper can make or break an art film. Many people who are into the art movie scene want to be the first to discover that rare gem out there, that proves to be first film of a cinematic master, and these same people will use critical response to help them decide what the new big thing is.
Next to critical praise, word-of-mouth is the most effective means of generating a buzz around your art film. Positive reviews will get a select few into the theater, but what these people say after they leave the movie is what ultimately determines the success of an art film. This holds true for typical Hollywood films, but these tend to open wide enough to recoup their budgets before positive or negative word of mouth has a chance to impact the film financially. The art film on the other hand, with its limited release, lives or dies by positive word-of-mouth. To generate positive word-of-mouth you have to have a good film with a unique edge. You should also have a film with a distinct style – something identifiable that people can classify. This will get them talking about your film.
The advertising for your art film should be literate, appealing to the type of audience you are seeking to capture. This subdued approach is almost like a plain wrapper around the film that says – this film is so good we don’t really need to advertise it. The ad campaign should feature positive reviews and festival awards that serve as tangible proof of the quality of your film. Remember, the goal here is to convince the audience that they have found something special that very few have discovered yet. This allows the viewer certain bragging rights, almost like being the first kid on your block to own something new. The idea here is that your film is a treasure waiting to be uncovered. Taglines should reflect this mentality and avoid hype and sensationalism. After all, the goal is to convince viewers that the film is of such quality that it doesn’t require traditional Hollywood ad campaigns.
Releasing n art film is an art onto itself, but many of these films are platformed. A typical platforming strategy calls for the film to be opened in a few select markets, most often New York or Los Angeles. Hopefully the film will generate buzz in these markets, then the film will be shown in other smaller markets. Often the director and lead actors will accompany the film and offer interviews and question and answer sessions as the film premiers in each market. This strategy is also cost effective, cutting down on the number of prints and marketing materials. It also helps to promote the filmmaker, which can be invaluable when it comes time to line up financing for your next film.
The film’s website should be a continuation of this same marketing strategy – subdued and intelligent. Obviously every film is different, but on the whole, art film websites should be more informational in nature and less promotional. Interviews with the filmmakers and information regarding the genesis of the film should form the core of the website. Remember, you don’t want to give away to much of your story – you want the audience to pay to see it!
Controversy can also help sell an art film; however, the controversy should not seem to be artificially generated hype. Like building a fire, the flames must be gently fanned – too much and the fire will blow out. Once it gets going though, it will be hard to stop. Art films, by their very nature, tend to tackle subjects that Hollywood films can’t afford to touch. Big budgeted films must reach the widest possible audience to ensure that they will pay for themselves. This means that Hollywood films can’t afford to take the same risks that smaller films can with their more limited appeal.
The bottom line in marketing an art film is to generate positive word-of-mouth by creating a film that is different than the pack. This unique quality suggests that your film is something rare, a jewel that must be seen to be believed.