I recently premiered my first microbudget feature The Waiting List in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I’ve read a lot of blogs and tweets about how important it is to turn your screening into an event. There are many well thought-out reasons for this, but the only true reason is that no one wants to see your crappy indie film. Or my crappy indie film. I’m not saying yours–or mine–is actually a crappy film, but since it didn’t get into Sundance and doesn’t have any recognizable stars from Entertainment Weekly, it must be plotless, poorly acted and guaranteed to be boring. Like a foreign movie or something.
I assume that’s the mindset of 95% of the people I’m trying to convince to watch my movie–let alone pay to watch it. So the amazing opportunity to see my movie at an out-of-the-way theater on a weekday evening has got to be pretty compelling. Here are a few small things I did to make it interesting for someone who has never heard of me or my movie.
1. “I want to promote your thing at my screening”
I realized quickly that many of the people who might consider attending my premiere (aside from friends, relatives and neighbors) were people who support the local creative scene. And most of those people probably have their own creative thing going on as well. I created a form on my website where anyone could upload a 1024 x 768 image that I would show on-screen before the movie for free. Instead of shilling soda or a wireless provider, I would promote “your thing.” I’ve posted all of the slides as a PDF here or a webpage here. The free creative promotions included everything from local blogs, podcasts, movies, telepathic pet communicators and an adult toy store. A good portion of them also came to the screening so I got to meet them in the real world instead of just being Facebook friends or Twitter followers.
Okay, I have to admit I’m in the camp of people who think Q&A sessions walk a fine line between informative, inspirational talks and self-congratulatory, narcissistic blab-a-thons. But I know if I were attending a screening by a local director with a local cast, I would expect to see them on stage awkwardly answering questions. As an audience member, there’s always that incentive that someday the director or the actors will be famous and you can brag about how you saw them at a Q&A once. That would be the incentive for me, at least. I was fortunate enough to have three actors from the film (Amanda Englund, Audrey Walker and Mercedes Rose) join me for the Q&A.
3. Speed Raffle
Yeah, a raffle. Everyone got a raffle ticket when they walked in the door. Prizes included gift certificates to Voodoo Doughnuts (their maple bacon donut was featured in the movie), DVD copies of The Waiting List, and–since it’s an honest movie about parenting–an adult “bath toy.” I’m not usually the biggest fan of raffles but when I attended the Filmed By Bike festival last year, their speed raffle won me over and it was a huge crowd-pleaser. I created a slide that played before the screening that said “Raffle! Win stuff!! Or watch other people win stuff!!!” The key here was giving away prizes that tied into the movie’s theme. So if a Q&A with the director and cast wasn’t incentive enough to stick around after the movie, you were holding a ticket in your hand that gave you a chance to win stuff.
4. Walk-in Music
So you’re sitting in the theater waiting for movie to start. You’re watching slides on the big screen featuring local creative projects: movies, blogs, webisodes, podcasts, pet psychics, sex toy shops. What else do you need? Music! My movie appeals to disillusioned parents, so naturally I thought of setting the mood with children’s music. A good mix of Mother Goose Rocks (where Eminem and No Doubt soundalikes re-interpret traditional children’s songs), nostalgic PBS themes (like 3-2-1 Contact and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood), and hilarious songs with parenting themes, including one I found on YouTube called Pregnant Women are Smug.
5. Online-ify the Location
It’s a physical event, but it’s obvious from going to movies that everyone’s screwing around on their phones before the movie starts. I wanted to take advantage of this idle mobile time. In addition to promoting other people’s things on slides, I snuck in a few of my own. “Check into the theater on Foursquare to see who else is at the movie (or just looking around you the old-fashioned way).” “Include our official hashtag #TWLPDX with any tweets or twitpics.” And to remind people earlier in the week that my movie was playing for one night only, I went to the well of overused internet memes and posted “Hitler Finds Out The Waiting List only Plays One Night” to Twitter and Facebook, which had 300+ views prior to the show. I made this a video response to a new trailer for my movie on YouTube so anyone who saw the Hitler spoof could easily click through to the movie’s trailer. All of this was in addition to the mandatory blog post, Facebook Event invite, Google Calendar invite and lots of tweets.
These are just a few of the things I did to give people a reason to show up and watch my movie in a theater. Watching a movie in a theater gives a sense of community that plopping down in front of a 67″ LCD in your man-cave simply does not. I’m interested to hear things other microbudget filmmakers have done to turn their screenings into events.