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Make Your Film a Virtual Success

31 May , 2009  

Written by April Gardner | Posted by:

April Gardner reports on six of the the latest online tactics local filmmakers are using to attract money and audiences to their indie projects.

We all love films for the boundless creativity in telling our stories. But let’s face it, as independent filmmakers, you don’t just need creative juices, you need the gritty resourcefulness of financial know-how to evoke the taste of success.

Business sense and artistic freedom are often strange bedfellows, but paired well, they can make a power couple. But these two don’t often find each other in this world. Admittedly, this is what stops many a filmmaker from stepping up to the director’s chair. The financial considerations are just too heavy, and clamp down on the creative desire.

Well, help is here. Thank goodness we’re in the digital era, for filmmakers in any location, even New England, have never had so much control in how they’re seen as they have today. Technology today has never been kinder, or more overwhelming in its potential, to creators.

Up for your consideration are a few local filmmakers who have created unique marketing approaches, and have each figured out ways to make money and gain viewers.

This guide outlines strategies and tactics on how to make money and gain exposure through your own efforts. Make sure you’re covered in each of these six areas, and you’re on your way to mixing your own magical success story.

1. Enter your film in a virtual festival.

Make your first stop in the circuit. This submission fee free “discovery festival” lets you broadcast your film to the world while also keeping the all rights and income through syndication to digital networks. Securing a web presence up front allows other festival programmers and fans to find you easily online.

2. Keep your online content current.

This part is particularly varied in what you can do, but the key is doing whatever you do, often. Create a blog or website, and a presence on virtual networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, or YouTube. These efforts will build momentum for your indie project. Ryan Gielen of The Graduates confirms that these activities “should be top, top priority, and should be filled constantly with new and interesting content.” See his blog for inspiration.

The filmmakers of Head Trauma have created an edgy and atmospheric blog at They’ve translated the concept of their film as an immersive experience, creating desktop wallpapers and an addictively interactive game that users play through Facebook and other sites.

And let’s not forget the success of the early pioneers, Susan Buice and Arin Crumley, makers of their relationship documentary Four Eyed Monsters. Their video blog that covered their experience with film festivals was serendipitously timed with the release of the Video iPod, earning them prominent coverage on MySpace and iTunes. In 2007, they successfully released their film on YouTube for about two months.

3. Schedule free screenings or giveaways.

Gielen successfully convinced theater owners to book The Graduates for one night runs with box office splits. This is no easy feat, but advance planning and persistence with theater owners is key here. They also screened the movie for local acting and film groups to invite them to meet the director and cast. If you need help in deciding where to screen your films, you can use technology to help. Buice and Crumley used a custom designed Google map that displayed the zip codes with the largest number of people requesting the film. From this information, they screened the film in six cities every week for a month. Their smart selections increased their popularity to allow them to premiere in a New York City theater in Greenwich Village.

Gielen also had fantastic success with a free soundtrack on iTunes. “Who doesn’t love great new indie music, for free?” claims Gielen. “We paid affordable rates for the music, and both us and the bands win with the exposure.” They also partnered with several companies and groups to give away the soundtrack to the organizations’ members. With a special code given to download the soundtrack, they were able to track interest by group type – a classic marketing technique to know thine own audiences.

4. Select a virtual network.

Hulu is the rising star in this category. For those who haven’t seen the Superbowl commercials, it is a joint venture between giants News Corp and NBC. This online video streaming site reports stats of 63 million video streams, and 2 hours of video watching per month. Reported users vary from 7 to 26 million per month. As the number of shows and movies available on the site grows, so will these stats. Make sure your work is part of this upward trajectory.

Mark Lund, writer/producer of the sci-fi flick First World, touts that they “are painfully easy to navigate” and have “excellent customer service. For an online streaming option, combined with their popularity, I thought they were the best option.” Be aware that you must partner with an online distributor to work with Hulu, which brings us to the next step.

5. Partner with an online distributor.

This is crucial to your self-empowerment.

Christian de Rezendes and Christian O’Neill, who chronicled the tragic Rhode Island club fire in the documentary 41, chose NEHST Studios as their partner. NEHST Studios ( is a production, financing and distribution company that is headed by veteran Larry Meistrich, producer of Sling Blade and You Can Count on Me.

Through this partnership, Rezendes and O’Neill made money by selling downloads of the film for $9.99, and also providing 3-day rental downloads for $3.99.

Lund chose Indieflix (, which can then distribute to multiple platforms. If a viewer loves your film after watching it on this site, they can purchase the film on DVD. A distributor like Indieflix can package a DVD that looks every bit as professional as what you’d see on the shelves. And there’s always that proud moment of seeing your own DVD on a table.

6. Treat your film like a long-term business.

Serious thinking and strategizing is necessary to obtain future financing for a feature length version of your short, or another film. As Lund points out, “This is about establishing relationships within the ever-changing distribution landscape of this industry.”

Gielen’s first short film, Deleted Scenes, which was 25 minutes long and cost $2,000 to make, performed well on festivals. Confident in his performance when presenting to family, friends, and investors, he’d say “I did this with $2,000. I can do something really special with $100,000.” People believed in his conviction, and his first feature in The Graduates was born for $95,000. “We won’t know until September how we did financially, because we just opened in a few theaters this week, and the film launches its wide release June 2nd.” Catch the film on Netflix and Amazon in June, and iTunes and Hulu on July 1st.

Remember, new technologies appear everyday, and brave experiments are concocted to determine the perfect potency for success. If you use the same creativity with your marketing as you have with your film, you may find your vision moving from your dark editing room to the bright lights of pixel screens around the world.

Mark Lund’s ‘First World.’
Ryan Gielen’s ‘The Graduates.’
Christian de Rezendes and Christian O’Neill’s ’41.’

Mark Lund's 'First World.' Ryan Gielen's 'The Graduates.' Christian de Rezendes and Christian O'Neill's '41.'