Marketing Independent Film From Start To Finish By Elliot Grove

Most independent filmmakers wait to start the marketing process after the film is finished. I’d like to propose a different approach to market independent film. One that starts before the film is even written.

Let’s back up a bit.

You want to sell your film, right? Who do you target your publicity at? The people who buy films, right? And who buys films? Acquisition executives, or ‘film buyers’.

And where do acquisition executives go to look for new films? There are three ways:
They go to film festivals.
They go to film markets.
They seek film sales agents.

Each film festival in the world has a festival programmer whose job it is to select films form their festival’s submissions to ‘program’. This person’s role is the festival programmer.

Each film market has many film sales agents who select films they think they can sell to distributors and make a commission.

So the three most important people in the world you need to market to are: festival programmer, film sales agent and acquisitions executive. And to be realistic, there are probably only a few dozen individuals in either category you can target with your new film.

The route to marketing independent film

Here are some facts that might make your blood run cold:

Over 6,000 new feature films are produced world wide every year. Many languish unseen and unsold. The films still seeking distribution follow a fairly straight forward route:

  • The producer’s attempt to get their film selected by film festivals in order to create awareness
  • Film sales agents scour film festivals for suitable product to represent and sell

Most films, whether festival films or not, end up at a film market like the American Film Market (AFM), the European Film Market (EFM) or Cannes (Marché du Film). With hundreds and thousands of films competing for acquisition executives and festival programmers, marketing should really start here.

Marketing Independent Film

Marketing Independent Film: Five Tips

1. Roger Corman technique

In 1996 the legendary Roger Corman was a guest of the Raindance Fim Festival. Please research this amazing genius, Roger Corman on 

Roger is a morning guy. He would meet me in my London office with the morning British papers. Over a cup of coffee, he would tear out keywords and mash them up on the table. When he saw a good movie title he would hand-write it down and I would fax it to his office in Los Angeles. This is how he came up with titles for some of his 750+ features. Titles like: Grand Theft Auto, Death Race 2000, Rock ‘N Roll High School, Slumber Party Massacre, and The Fast And The Furious.

When he saw a title in his mash-up he would handwrite it down, and I would fax it to LA in the days of the flimsy paper fax machines. Roger would leave my humble Soho office and do what independent film geniuses do, and return about 6pm. LA would be awake and through my fax would come a very lo-res poster with nothing more than the image and the title. If Roger liked it, he would tear it off, stuff it in his pocket and in the evening mingle with the great and the good of the London film scene. And acquisition executives of course.

He’d tell me the next morning, if enough people liked his film he would hire a screenwriter to write the script suggested by his poster. Reverse engineering.

2. The power of the one sheet

Roger Corman aside, did you know films are sold at three different stages of production at a film market?

  • Development
  • Production
  • Completed

Marketing Independent Film

A one-sheet is deemed to be good when at first glance you know exactly what genre of film it is. This film is obviously not a rom-com!

There’s nothing to stop you taking a one-sheet to a film market and see if you can get it funded in what is known as a pre-sale. Finance aside, its an excellent way to judge the market reaction.

At Raindance I teach the power of the one-sheet at script stage in the Screenwriters’ Foundation Certificate. For an excellent one-sheet we always use They are London based and really understand the power of the one-sheet.

3. The power of the trailer

Imagine this. You are either an acquisition executive or a harried festival programmer on a deadline. You still have a dozen films to watch, And its getting late and you are on a deadline. Don’t you think you’d want to watch a trailer to see if the film falls within the parameters of your distribution company or film festival?

A good trailer is 90 – 120 seconds long and gets the emotion of the movie across. This trailer is 86 seconds long and has been seen over half a million times. Seeing the one-sheet and watching this trailer will give you an absolutely 100% accurate idea of what this movie is about. Love it. Or leave it.

4. Crowdfunding as marketing

No two people understand what crowd-funding is really about than RB Botto of And multi-hyphenate storymaker & Crowdfunding “Zen Master” John Trigonis.

I know both RB and John personally. And they will each tell you that the reason you initiate a crowd-funding campaign is to raise awareness of your project. Getting money is a secondary benefit.

RB has written an excellent book: Crowdsourcing for Filmmakers: Indie Film and the Power of the Crowd 
John Trigonis has written an excellent book: Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign

Each of these books provide an invaluable insight into marketing and getting the word out about your film.

5. The power of genre

There is no surer kiss of death than to describe your film as a drama. The term drama is too general. All stories are dramas.

Remember that every single acquisition executive in the world is looking for a different type of product. The quickest way to narrow down your film from the thousands of others is to describe it by genre. Are you horror? Or action? Better yet, are you a genre hybrid? Action/Adventure? Romantic/Comedy and so on.

Fade Out

Nothing is easy when it comes to marketing. If your film has a lightness to it, and if it looks like you’re having fun, it’s almost guaranteed your marketing will be successful. Keep up to date. Read the trade papers and see if you too can identify trends and marketing techniques that you can adapt for your campaign.

What was your idea for a movie again? I think Roger Corman has said it best of all: Start with the poster. A picture, after all, says a thousand words.



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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