When you’ve got a nanobudget movie in a film festival, the marketing costs can quickly approach the same amount as the film’s budget. But that’s only if you do things like print out postcards people will immediately throw away and make t-shirts or hats that will sit in a dusty corner of a closet. There are a lot of tools out there if you’re willing to get creative, and you can be smart about marketing your movie at a festival without spending a lot of money. Here are some things I did for my screening at the Salem Film Festival–it all ended up costing under $40.
Newspaper: One of the first things I did when I found out we got into the festival was send an email press release to @shawnlevy, the film critic for The Oregonian, which is distributed in Salem. I was excited to see the movie title mentioned in the A&E section. (That’s the second time this year a movie I directed was mentioned in A&E.)
Blog and YouTube video: I don’t know much about Salem, but I know they have a giant golden statue. And I recently made a silly video involving talking statues. So I decided to make a ridiculous video for Salem that included all the info for my screening. I posted it to my blog, along with some photoshopped images of the statue in scenes from my movie.
QR Code poster: I drove down to the Salem Film Festival on the Saturday before my screening for one of the festival parties and to put up a couple of homemade printed posters. Printed one-sheets look really nice but they cost a lot of money and I wonder if anyone actually looks at them. I decided to make a poster that wasn’t a typical one-sheet and let people watch an exclusive clip if they scanned a QR code. I put this up by the theater exit (also where people would line up for popcorn), as well as on the door a pizza place/bar across the street where some moviegoers go to hang out. I used a bit.ly link for the QR code so I could see how many times it was scanned–not many. Which either means people don’t scan QR codes, or people don’t look at one-sheets, or both.
Google Adwords: I wanted people who might attend the film festival to be aware of my movie so I bought keywords on Google. So anytime someone in the Salem/Portland area googled “salem film festival” they would see the name of my movie. I got about 10,000 impressions in two weeks and I was usually in the top ad spot. The AdWords campaign cost $18.92.
Facebook ads: I also created some Facebook ads and targeted people who lived within 10 miles of Salem and liked the Salem Film Festival or a bunch of other movies, actors, and directors. I also set up a few ads targeted at anyone in Salem with a bachelor’s degree, in case they weren’t the type of people who went around liking things on Facebook.
The main campaign was seen by 6,817 individuals (not impressions), they each saw an ad about 12 times, and 664 of those people saw the ad with the name of a friend who liked our Facebook page or RSVPed to our screening event (this is called Social Reach). This campaign cost $10.59.
I did another ad on the day of the screening that was seen by 6,781 individuals, they each saw an ad about 8 times, and 284 of them saw it with Social Reach. This campaign cost $9.92. The total for both Facebook campaigns was $20.51. Here’s what the ads looked like…
Show up: Actors and crew from the movie drove down for the Q&A. If I were attending a screening at a film festival, I’d want to see someone from the movie there. We had actors, cinematographer, location manager, and me (writer/director). Only the actors and I were up front for the Q&A but everyone else was ready to answer questions too.
Brian (cinematographer) and Amanda (lead actor)
And now for the payoff…
We did a technical check before the screening. This was the first time I’d ever seen Did You Kiss Anyone? projected in a movie theater. It looked great. The screen size is hard to tell from this photo, but you can see the tiny green exit sign to the right for reference.
I took this photo while addressing the audience briefly prior to the movie. We had a good sized crowd, even more impressive when you considered it was a Wednesday night. I like to think the $40 I spent helped convince a few of these people to attend.
I was relieved when almost everyone stayed afterward for the Q&A. One woman leaving stopped to say she couldn’t stay for Q&A but that she loved the movie. That’s exactly the first thing you want to hear after showing your movie to an audience.
Bob, Audrey, me, Brian, Amanda after the Q&A
After the Q&A we went out for drinks to celebrate. Four pitchers of beer and a huge order of tots cost more than my entire marketing budget for the festival. Money well spent.
Drew and Bob (actors) (also, the eye of Tamar from Suck My Box.)
Dani and Brian (location manager & cinematographer) (They look surly because it was dark and I used a flash.)
Audrey and Sara (actor and wife)
Sara and me
Audrey and Uncle Jerry
Go check out DidYouKissAnyone.com for more info on the movie. And if you’ve done something cool to market your nanobudget movie at a film festival, let me know so I can steal your ideas for the next one.
My first feature “The Waiting List” is on YouTube and I wanted to do a director’s commentary, which is something people who like DVDs say is missing from streaming movies. “The Waiting List” has some interesting little behind-the-scenes stories and facts that I wanted to share. I knew I could use YouTube annotations to create “pop-up video” moments, minus the obnoxious pop-up sound. I know some people might find it annoying, but the button to turn on/off annotations is pretty easy to find on the playback toolbar. I also added a message at the beginning that explains it.
So I decided to spend a few evenings adding and editing annotations. This is not an especially quick process. Sometimes you have to strategically place the annotation or lengthen the time it’s up because more words will take longer to read. And I had to think of things to say/write that would (hopefully) be interesting. The nice thing is that I can go back and add or edit them at any time.
I updated TheWaitingListMovie.com so it’s designed to make it easy to read the annotations. And by designed, I mean poorly ripped off Devour. But watching it on YouTube works just as well. Add it to your “Watch Later” list if you can’t watch it now!
Here are some screenshots of the annotations so you can see what they look like and what they say…
And of course, you can start watching all of the annotations here…
Before I even had a title for Did You Kiss Anyone? I knew that it would involve a married couple who go their separate ways for one night, and that this fracture in their relationship would be caused by a single event: the wife shitting with the door open. Okay, clearly this isn’t a Revolutionary Road type of bleak tragedy about a stultifying marriage. It’s more of a romantic comedy about a crazy night out and I knew I had actor (Amanda Charr) who could pull off the bathroom scene(s) with the right level of humor and realism.
Now here’s where the life of “Did You Kiss Anyone?” gets tricky. I wrote the script in November/December 2008. I did a crowdfunding webseries called Did You Cast Anyone? in July 2009 (just before Kickstarter kickstarted itself). And then we began shooting in October 2009. We’d only shot about 20% of the movie by December 2009 when I saw the Sundance selections come out. One of them was a movie called “The Freebie.” The premise seemed almost exactly the same: A couple in a stale marriage give each other a pass to have sex with someone else for one night only. Someone beat me to the punch! And worse, it looked like a really good movie. I was in a depression for days and ridiculously considered calling off the rest of production.
But multiple movies about the same thing happen all the time. And as my wife said, “It’s not like it’s the most original idea in the world.” That briefly wounded my creative ego but also changed my outlook. My own inspiration for the “one night pass” idea came from Season 4 of Curb Your Enthusiasm so who’s to say it wouldn’t inspire other people? And so in February 2011, I wasn’t totally surprised when I heard the movie “Hall Pass” was also coming out and that it had the same basic premise. There’s even a Hindi movie that predates all of those called Mixed Doubles.
I started to look at it like this: there are many types of movies. Heist movies. Vampire movies. Married couples giving freebie hall pass movies. There may be similarities in the storyline, but the treatment or execution is what makes them different. I haven’t seen The Freebie or Hall Pass (although I REALLY want to see The Freebie–I just can’t yet), but I know that the three movies are all completely different. I’m positive there are some moments of overlap. It’s like heist movie tropes: you’ve got to see the crew get assembled, they’ve got to get into an impregnable fortress, there’s a femme fatale whose loyalties are unclear, etc. In a feebie hall pass movie, the tropes probably include a married couple missing their days of being single, breaking down the rules of the one night stand (who/what is off limits), and a re-consideration of marriage informed by the events of the movie.
The premise is not the story. The execution or delivery is what makes a movie unique.
So I’d come to peace with all of this and finished shooting and editing the movie. I even showed it to the cast and crew who all seemed to genuinely enjoy it. I’ve since sent it out to a few film festivals and hope to be able to show it somewhere soon. But then I saw the trailer for The Change Up, which is not exactly the same idea. But it has one similarity that drives me nuts. There is a scene where a wife shits with the door open. AAARRRRRRHHHHH!!! Why, Zeus, WHY!? The working title for my movie was “Shitting with the Door Open.” The current tagline is: “A romantic comedy about marriage, sex, and shi**ing with the door open.” Hell, even my Twitter avatar has been me on the toilet as a homage to that scene. (Again, I was inspired by the great explosive diarrhea marriage proposal from Henry Fool so I’m not conceited enough to believe anyone was even aware of my movie.) But the lovely Leslie Mann, crapping out Thai food on a toilet while her husband averts his eyes in disgust… COME ON! That’s my joke!
So I’m going to “premiere” my scene first–and by premiere I mean post it to YouTube. Amanda Charr is just as lovely and her bathroom emergency is due to lactose intolerance. In fact, her lactose intolerance plays a key role in the movie, not just this scene. I hope posting this will release some voodoo that ends all of the random, unwelcome similarities with “Did You Kiss Anyone?” So please, if you’re going to film a Furries orgy, I’ve already got that covered.
Here is MY shitting with the door open scene:
And if you run a film festival or screening series and want a screener, drop me a line…
After making two nanobudget movies (The Waiting List & Did You Kiss Anyone?), I realize that some of the impressions I had about filmmaking were a bit glamorized. So I made this handy, printable chart… (click for a larger version)
Now that I’m (almost) done editing “Did You Kiss Anyone?” I’m planning a cast/crew screening. I made a list of everyone who helped make the movie in one way or another. Not just the cinematographer and actor type help, but people who let us use their house for a set. Owners of bars and cafes who let us film during off hours. A guy who grilled food for the extras while we used his friend’s house to stage a bizarre (and hilarious to film) orgy scene. Bloggers who visited the set, wrote about it, and then became extras. Even my dad, who went to a slaughterhouse to get an actual pig’s head for reasons I won’t go into here.
So far, the number of people who helped make the movie is over 100. Over one hundred! (I’m not even including people who shared a link to a casting call or trailer on Facebook or Twitter.) Those 100 people are people who took time out of their lives or opened their doors for someone that in most cases they didn’t even know. I doubt I’d met more than 20% of them prior to this movie.
I probably wouldn’t have started making DYKA if I knew it would take 100 people (not to mention over a year for just the production phase alone). And it’s staggering and humbling to think 100 people gave me the benefit of the doubt and said “yes” to whatever favor I was asking them. I’m excited to soon show them the movie we made. And even more excited to eventually share the movie we made with the world.
Since a lot of people were involved in getting locations or populating those locations up with people, I decided to make a map of all the Portland area locations we used, featuring images from the movie. (I’d recommend opening it in a new window).
It’s pretty clear that traditional indie film distribution is broken. It’s even more clear that bitching about it isn’t going to make the old days (which I was never a part of) come back. When I made my first movie three years ago, I was hoping to get it on iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix. I didn’t even consider theatrical, aside from doing my own screenings.
Here’s the problem: no one wants to buy your movie–on DVD, on iTunes, on Amazon, on whatever third party platform is offering a chance to help you sell it. As I write this, a company called Neoflix is going out of business because no one wants to buy indie movies by 250 different filmmakers.
The fact was the Neoflix model was not sustainable unless we had at least 300 filmmakers selling at least 2 films a day. In reality, during Neoflix’s best year we had 250 filmmakers selling a combined average daily volume of 80 units, which equated to 0.3 films per day per client. The long tail concept did not track for most clients as most films would receive a burst of sale in the initial weeks or perhaps even months, and tail off sharply thereafter.
I put my movie The Waiting List on IndieFlix because I wanted to have an option for selling it on DVD, and hopefully on iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix. Here’s the thing: those other distribution options don’t want your non-celebrity, non-famous movie. You can pay a company like Distribber to get your movie on iTunes etc, but that doesn’t mean anyone will want to buy it. So you’ll just be out another $1,200 plus $75 a year. To put this in perspective for me, the entire budget of The Waiting List was less than what it would cost to use Distribber.
So what are the other options?
I started to think about how I watch movies: Netflix (declined me) or Hulu (declined me) or YouTube (de– wait, I’ve got movies on YouTube). YouTube is going to be around longer than Neoflix, IndieFlix, hell I’d even say longer than MOVIE THEATERS. So I uploaded my entire feature to YouTube (google how to do this if you didn’t know you could).
Here are some immediate benefits:
You can now watch The Waiting List on mobile devices, including iPads (photo above). As new mobile devices and Internet TVs come out, you can guarantee YouTube will support them and I won’t need to do anything aside from watch my movie on the latest techtoy.
It’s like Netflix Watch Instantly, without requiring a Netflix account. It’s like Hulu without 1,000 pre-roll advertisements. It’s like iTunes without the payment, download, and having to use iTunes.
I can annotate it with a DVD-like commentary (coming soon, maybe, if it’s not too annoying).
This is all a freaking dream come true. It’s amazing to me that I can even do this. But… but I know you’re all business-like and want to point out there’s no way to monetize it on YouTube. As opposed to not monetizing it by not selling DVDs or some other form of “units.” That’s when I had the idea that the concept of selling a piece of entertainment is coming to an end, if not already there. You pay for a theatrical experience. You pay for a Netflix subscription. You don’t (or rarely) pay for an individual piece of content. I know I don’t. (What’s that? You buy individual ebooks for your Kindle?)
I started brainstorming. What do other creatives do? What do bloggers do? Bloggers offer content for free because no one will pay for it. But they put ads on their blog and offer premium services. Getting someone to click on an ad or buy something else they want through an affiliate link can’t be impossible, can it? Maybe not lucrative, but better than paying someone to put it on platforms no one will buy it from.
So I fixed up TheWaitingListMovie.com with various types of ads and a pitch as to how you help the filmmakers when you click/buy from the ad. There’s a place to buy the toys mentioned in the movie. A place for screenwriting tools. Places to just click an ad and give the filmmakers .03¢ (every tiny amount helps).
The coolest thing (to me) is The .99¢ Screenplay. I created a PDF of the script and linked each scene header to that section of the movie. See how a nano-budget movie went from script to screen. See how things changed, what was left out, what was improvised on set. No one in the history of the world has ever done this before (note: I have not verified this claim, nor wish to be informed if it’s incorrect).
I know you’ve already thought of a million things wrong with this model that you can’t wait to point out. Instead of doing that, point out a BETTER solution. If you have a better idea, I’ll do that too. I’m not Kevin Smith, I can’t rent out Radio City Music Hall and take my movie on the road. But if I could, I would in a second. Right now, the blogging model for indie film distribution seems like the most promising way to get people to see my movie.
The question is… can AdSense ads, affiliate links, and a .99¢ Screenplay help a nano-budget film break even? Make it profitable? Stay tuned….
So I’ve been doing a littleexperiment to see how I could use Ustream to get more people to watch my first movie The Waiting List. We had a live event where people chatted live with myself and almost all of the cast. It was truly lots of fun. But some people couldn’t attend because there was a playoff game or a New Episode of their Favorite TV Show. It drove home how much we’re all used to having things we want when we want them. And watching an indie movie you’ve never heard of is pretty low on the “must do immediately” list. The morning after the Ustream event, I was tempted to put the movie on YouTube. But YouTube only allows 10 minute segments and right now I don’t want to chop it up into 10 minute segments. Recording a live Ustream and making it available on-demand isn’t the highest quality route to go, but it will get the job done.
In honor of this new live stream, I completely ripped off Godard’s Socialisme trailer and made a trailer that shows the entire movie in under 1 minute. So if you’re really unsure about if you want to see The Waiting List, you only need 59 seconds to see the whole thing. (Also, movies-in-a-minute will be the next big meme in 3… 2… 1…)
Sell movie on DVD, Amazon, hopefully even get it on iTunes, Netflix and Hulu without paying exorbitant “encoding” fees.
Sign royalty checks (my first royalty check just came for $14.56!)
But the problem is that the audience you built in step #1 isn’t clamoring to buy the DVD/download you’re selling in step #4. Maybe they re-tweeted the link. Maybe they even shared it on Facebook. Whipping out the debit card? Not so much. Your master plan (okay, fine, my master plan) had a fatal flaw in that people’s support of your project is occasionally limited to things that do not require them to make purchases.
And remember, that’s the mindset of your FANBASE. People who actually like and approve of what you’re doing. So how do you get people who have never heard of you or your movie to pay for it? Well, maybe you don’t…
The Waiting List was my first micro-budget movie. It’s based on an experience I had waiting overnight in a preschool to get my daughter enrolled. It’s a movie about parenting, by parents and for parents. And I would really like every parent (who doesn’t mind vulgar language and uncomfortable honesty) to see it. Which is why I decided to do a little test earlier in the week to see if my slow-ish home network was capable of streaming it live on Ustream.
I sent out a link on Facebook and Twitter moments before streaming the entire movie live, for free. I’d love to say hundreds of people showed up, but it was really more like ten. Which isn’t bad considering it wasn’t actually promoted. My interest in this first round was just to see if it would work from home and if the video looked good. A few of the cast members showed up and we started chatting about the making of the movie in a DVD commentary kind of way. (It devolved into too many raunchy jokes–sort of like being on set.)
It made me think that maybe a few live Ustream screenings should be on the distribution checklist of any micro-budget filmmaker. Giving your product away for free might not make sense on the surface. But… Will people show up knowing they’re getting something for free they’d usually have to pay for? Will any of those people decide to buy the DVD now that they’ve seen it and chatted with the filmmakers? Will they tell their friends (people you don’t know) about it because they’ve had an actual experience watching it?
This is an experiment. One of the best things about being a micro-budget filmmaker is that you have nothing to lose and don’t need to ask permission.
So I’m planning another live Ustream screening for April. Things you’ll be able to do?
Watch the movie for free
Live chat with the director and some of the actors (like an interactive DVD commentary)
Possibly a live video Q&A (ask questions in the Chat window and see them answered via a webcam)
But I’m not a Ustream expert. What else could be done to make an online screening fun? What are other ways a filmmaker can interact with an audience during a live stream? And–in addition to selling a DVD–is there any way to increase the film’s “box office?” Sell t-shirts? Tip jar? Crowdfunding page?
What would draw you to watching a micro-budget feature on Ustream?