I have long-struggled to optimise the promotion of movie releases I have worked on with the assets I've been provided with from sales agents, producers and licensors. One example was a major Scandinavian drama release, where I was given only a dozen production stills, none of them remotely impactful enough to really piece together a decent enough poster with.
It amazes me how poor production stills can be. What is even more amazing is how few independent productions bother with arranging ‘specials shoots’ (studio photography) whilst they have the cast together, as this is ridiculously hard to arrange afterwards when everyone has moved onto other projects. Specials shoots can totally make posters, and it’s incredibly hard to create a commercial looking poster without them – especially for cast-led features. These cast shoots don’t even have to be taken in a photographic studio either, as actors can be posed on location, in costume and in character.
It is also not unusual for an actor’s head to be cut out of a still and then put onto a model’s body, with a similar build, who has been dressed to look like their character. I once had to do this on a poster where the actor couldn’t make it back for the specials shoot (see my earlier point), and it just about worked, but was a bit of a headache nonetheless.
Infamously, the poster for Pretty Woman only featured Julia Roberts’ head. This can cause problematic issues when matching up the lighting with the other cast shots, etc. With a large ensemble cast this is almost unavoidable – such as the Mamma Mia – Here We Go Again poster. But in a case like this, everything will have been planned meticulously, and with a generous re-touching budget attached to the project.
It is imperative for producers to consider the subsequent marketing of their film as well as the making of it, as the former will significantly help put the final feature in front of actual audiences. When I worked on the release of the urban comedy, Anuvahood, at Revolver Entertainment, we were part of the same company that produced the film, so the marketing and production planning was completely seamless. We created a YouTube channel and social media pages for the film before the film started shooting and used the production itself as a marketing tool. This seldom happens, but when it does it can make all the difference. Look at the effect releasing the Cloverfield teaser trailer had so far in advance of the release itself! Also, how much the advanced publicity around the extremely dangerous stunts in the latest Mission Impossible film built huge anticipation levels, especially with Tom Cruise appearing with a broken ankle on talk shows, nearly a year ahead of its general release. Dropping a major film now, with no advanced hype, is a very risky strategy. Early anticipation and engagement provides the audience time in which to get to know the content and to attach themselves to it on an emotional level. Especially if they are fans of the cast and contributing artists – such as a singer or band that may be providing a song for the soundtrack. In the case of Anuvahood, we even produced a music video for this very purpose, long before the film was released:
Here is my essential promotional checklist for independent producers:
Hire a good photographer (and costumier) and take multiple high-resolution photographs of your key cast, in costume, on location/set, or in a photographic studio, or ideally both. Pair up actors in shoots and shoot them all individually – the more options the better. Be careful to keep the light even…
Get the cast to pre-approve and select the photographs that can be used later on by distributors in marketing materials, so you don't have to go back to them later to get these approved, as that will take a great deal of time and they may later change their minds, especially after they have moved on to new projects.
Have a decent production photographer for additional stills that can be used to support the key art or to be used for publicity / on DVD sleeves etc.
Hire a good unit publicist and get the most out of them and look for newsworthy angles
Set up social media channels for the film at the outset and get all the cast and crew to like and share the pages with their entire networks – this will get the ball rolling and a distributor can later take over the accounts or these can be managed globally with geo-tagged content specific for certain territories.
Put content out regularly across your social channels and encourage your network to share these. Follow accounts that may follow you back and help your ‘earned media’ levels. Ideally hire someone to run this for you but if you don’t have the budget to do that, do it yourself – find the time.
Get some teaser / sales key art created for the social channels, create a logo for your film at this stage – but use a decent agency / designer who works extensively in film – and then test this material to make sure that it resonates beyond your own taste and vision. Sometimes filmmakers need external feedback as they can become very insular.
Record as much content as possible on camera for Electronic Press Kits, and as social media content. Content is KING! Even if it seems banal, others may not think the same and you can always bin it later.
Give your cast free-reign to film vlogs whilst on set that you can later use, or to write a shoot diary
This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it will make you think about what lies beyond the final scene is wrapped and your film is in the edit suite.
For more advice and support on independent film marketing, please do get in touch!