A few months ago I was at a forum for new filmmakers about selling your film where the panel talked ad nauseam about the importance of getting good stills for your publicity pack. I think everyone in the full auditorium had got the message after the first ten minutes that if you want to get your film noticed you must have photos that sell your production (i.e. pay a professional to take the pictures and make sure you get your main actors, director, and your set looking good).
But the panel seemed intent on torturing us by constantly returning to their theme and minutiae of getting still images, when everyone was itching for some real insights into marketing and publicity.
To be fair, there was some standard if uninspiring advice on what to include in your press pack, what to expect from distributors, and so on. I got the feeling that the audience was unimpressed, particularly when one panellist started talking about budgeting the kind of sum for a promotional trailer that many filmmakers are making whole movies on. Clearly throwing vast sums into promoting their film was not an option for indie filmmakers like these.
Along the way, the panel dismissed the idea of seriously using the web as a marketing tool. Yes, Blair Witch had a phenomenal success with its stealth internet campaign, said one, but it was an exception, adding that the internet is not important - it comprises but 1% of the publicity budget.
Are publicists missing a trick or do they take the internet more seriously than they make out?
Certainly, it's true that the Blair Witch Project had the right chemistry at the right time in the internet's development. If you remember back to 1998, word-of-mouth rumour about some sinister footage purporting to be real, spread like wildfire over the network of chatrooms and bulletin boards.
"In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary... A year later their footage was found."
Blair Witch's online campaign was a stunning success, and although web users are now too savvy for that kind of strategy to work, it showed the potential of the internet as a viral marketing tool.
Of course, even if they did use stealth marketing techniques, publicists aren't going to talk readily about how they strategically leak materials or rumours, place articles and reviews on websites, and so on - because that would be counter-productive.
At a more basic level, there was little mention of how a well-tended email list can be used to get word out about a film and there was scant advice on how to promote a film through the web.
You should probably announce the film at IMDB. Then register a domain name for the film and develop a web site where you can distribute press information and later publicity materials online (see end if you need hosting, design or domain name services).
The web gives you a global reach and you can save a bundle on promotional costs (packaging, postage, photographic labs) not to mention time. Distribution of publicity materials in a digital form is becoming the norm and the one obvious place the media or even someone interested in buying your film will think of looking every time is your website. Where before images were distributed in transparency and black-and-white images, digital formats (usually JPEGs or TIF files) are becoming the norm.
Journalists may file away the snazzy print press package that was given to them at a festival for future use, but they are as likely to download and print off production notes from a website when needed.
A good site can help generate publicity for a film before it even premieres. There is no doubt that Morgan Spurlock's fatty-food web site for Super Size Me, contributed to its huge buzz at the Sundance Film Festival. Spurlock went on to win the director's award, a distribution deal and his own television reality show called 30 Days.
At a personal level, a good site can make the difference between whether I see a film or not. After visiting the site for Errol Morris's Fog of War I made a point of getting out to see it (highly recommended, incidentally).
I like the site because it doesn't follow the classic-but-dull movie site template, with sections broken up into film synopsis, filmmakers' bios, gallery of stills, release dates, trailer, downloads (wallpapers, etc), newsletter, shop, etc.
Most sites are now in Macromedia Flash with the emphasis on design, but the best provide more than window dressing for a film.
Personal sites have their uses as well. An obvious, but good example, is Sir Ian McKellan's site which he uses to scotch rumours in the media and communicate directly with fans.
Viral online marketing campaigns may be tricky to orchestrate as publicists will often tell you. One thing is sure though, if you are selling your film and trying to get distributors interested on a limited budget, you should be planning an effective web strategy and you should be spending more than 1% of your publicity budget on carrying it out.
For design, domain names and web hosting contact Jonathan at Launch Site.