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Being a filmmaker anywhere is hard. It’s a miracle when an idea for a film manages to go through the effort of being thought up, being turned into a script, then have funding sought, followed by casting, building a crew, and then managing to survive to have the darn thing filmed. Then, of course there’s the editing, scoring, colour timing too. It’s exhausting. This is before the promotional trail kicks off. No wonder people call filmmaking like running a small business.
The reality is that for Australian filmmakers, the process of making a film can be even harder. There’s sourcing out funding, there’s building a production team, and there’s the likelihood that it’ll put you into immense debt. There’s a reason why many Aussie filmmakers have only one film to their name: it’s just that difficult to get one going, and once it’s done, the struggle to go through the years long process again can be almost insurmountable.
I don’t need to tell you that the sea of media is getting deeper and deeper, or about what the pressures of getting your film noticed are. You know that already. It’s likely been one of the top things on your mind while you were making your film. Whether you’re the writer, director, actor, or part of the production crew, there’s a level of pride that comes with your work, and you’d be darn well excited at the end to show it off. And yet, that anxiety of not knowing if anyone will see it is there too.
While I can’t personally help out with the production side of things, I’ve been around long enough, interviewed enough filmmakers, and published enough press releases that I know intimately from a critic perspective what I personally need from you as filmmaker that will help inform The Curb readers and other media sites about how to find your film.
With these things in mind, the below is a set of tips, hints, or suggestions, on how to help your film get noticed.
You Called it What?
First things first: give your film or production company a good title.
What does a good title mean exactly? Well, naturally, a good title needs to fit the films narrative and themes appropriately, or represent the ideology of your production company. That’s a given. But, what a good title needs to do more than anything else is stick in the audiences mind, and be easily discoverable.
I’m going to circle out a stellar film from 2020 that got unfairly buried by its title:
Originally titled Go Karts, Go! appears to be a film that was always going to be saddled with a naff title that tells you nothing about the film itself. Unfortunately sounding as generic as they come, Go! is also mighty hard to search. That’s before you even start to wonder if people are talking about the 1999 Doug Liman film.
Australian films have a habit of being given very generic titles that do little to entice viewers, or worse than that, they carry a title that’s been used countless times before by international films. If you want your film to stand out, or to make an impact, do a quick search on IMDb or Letterboxdprior to settling on a title and see what similar titled films come up. If there are more than a couple high profile films that carry a similar title, then I suggest parking that one and going back to the drawing board.
If your film is the tenth entry on a line-up of films on IMDb that have the same or similar title to what you want to use, then you may as well not exist. It’s like the tenth page of Google. No one goes there.
This is not to shame filmmakers, but rather to highlight that when I’ve recommended people check out a film called Go!, they immediately forget the title and are left with ‘that go kart movie from Busselton’ ringing around in their head. And sure, if they Google it, they’ll find the film they were recommended, but it shouldn’t taking vague searches in Google or extra keywords to find your film.
Now, keep in mind that a title can change any time during a production, so don’t feel married to what you’ve chosen. Once you’re in post-production, that’s the time to cement your decision.
As media folks, we want to help get your great film in front of folks eyes, and a memorable title will do just that.
Once you have production set and organised and you know that you’re about to kick off making a film: get social.
Set up a Facebook page. Set up a Twitter account. Kick off an Instagram account. Get a dedicated email address. Establish a YouTube channel.
You don’t need to start building a following on these accounts straight away, but you will want to have them there with all relevant information on how to contact you, or to visit a website, if someone hears about your project and wants to keep track of it.
Once you establish your account, give it a handle that is easily taggable. When it comes to having media publications sharing your trailer or poster or reviews of your film, they’ll want to tag your account, and just like the title of your film, it’s got to be easy to find amongst the plethora of social media accounts out there. Take Hearts and Bones for example, their Facebook page has the taggable title of ‘facebook.com/heartsandbonesmovie’. Nice and easy to find.
Ok, so you’re in production, and you want people to know about the hard work you’re doing. Share photos on Instagram, share on set stories on Facebook, and tweet about how production is going. Director Kriv Stenders has become a master of social media, with on set stories being shared on Facebook when he’s filming, building interest and awareness of what he’s working on.
A YouTube channel seems inevitable – you’ll need a place for your trailer to go after all. But, you can also use it for behind the scenes videos or production videos if you decide to go down that route. A dedicated email is also a given, you’ll want a central place where people can get in contact with you and reach out for media inquiries. Naturally, this might change when your film is finished and you enlist the assistance of a PR agent, but if you’re a micro budget film, it’s likely you’ll be the one doing the hard yards of media contact work.
It may sound like hard work, but social media will likely be the first place that someone will search for your film, and having no social media presence at all is almost like not even existing. There’s been countless times when I’ve gone to link to a Facebook page or tag a Twitter account, and there’s nothing there. At the very least, a social media account can help point people in the direction of where you want them to look (an email, or a website), and at the most, it can build global attention of your project in a manner that may surprise you.
As silly as it sounds, you need to continually remind audiences that your film exists, and the subtle manner of reaching out to potential viewers via social media is one easy way of doing so. If all this posting here, there, and everywhere, sounds overwhelming, set up a Hootsuite account and schedule the next weeks’ worth of posts for your film. You might even be able to post the same thing across different platforms.
In many ways, you’ll need to become your own small business. If you thought making a film was hard, then promoting it in an already saturated environment is equally as hard. Once your film is out in the world, and reviews filter through, or it becomes available on streaming platforms, make sure to share the news about it on social media. Find the Australian film groups on Facebook, make friends with industry folks, share your posts in these groups.
But, find a balance! Don’t become obnoxious and spam with the same posts over and over five times a day. Vary it up, share a review here, a trailer there, push your screening times. You’ll know when you’ve found the right balance, but it’s possible to overwhelm your social media audience with the presence of your film.
Every second you’re on set filming is an opportunity to create a profile that will help promote your film. Firstly, ensure that you have high quality photos from behind the scenes, of the cast, crew, and most importantly, the director. These are essential when it comes to doing interviews and media down the line. You’ll be surprised how vital behind the scenes photos are in cataloguing your films production history, and how many people are fascinated by this peak behind the curtain look at filmmaking.
Additionally, if your budget allows it, organise for some professional photos of the cast and crew. When interviews take place, media outlets like The Curb or Cinema Australia will require these when it comes to publishing them. While your Facebook profile picture might look ok on your phone, it looks grainy and less than stellar when put as a header image on a post about your film, and should ideally be avoided as a submitted photo when doing interviews.
Linking into the social media side of things, utilise the tools of Instagram stories or the video aspect of Tiktok. A short behind the scenes video with cast and crew on set continues that awareness building of your film. If time permits, record on set interactions or micro-interviews with cast and crew. This isn’t as vital as behind the scenes photos, but if you set up that YouTube channel, you might want to have something to fill it up with.
Write it Up
Right, you’re in the thick of making a film, you don’t get to bed til 2:30am and you’ve got an early start tomorrow, the last thing on your mind is writing about the day you’ve just had, but if you find the strength in it, do it. Try keep a diary of how the production is going. This might be just for yourself, or maybe you might be able to use it as a guide when it comes to doing interviews a year or two after filming has wrapped. Either way, taking notes about how each day has gone helps keep the experience of filmmaking fresh in your mind.
Once it comes to doing media, it has been beneficial for some filmmakers to write a piece about the production of the film, incorporating their plan and vision for the project, and discussing how they managed to execute that plan while filming. This could be used for your own website that can help promote the film, or for websites like Cinema Australia or The Curb to publish, where countless essays about the production of a film have been published.
Help Us, Help You
When it comes to promoting your film, and you’re sending out press releases, please, for our sake, send it through in a manageable format. Keep in mind that not everyone uses Apple products, so sending through your press release in .pages format is almost useless. Additionally, while receiving a pdf is nice, it becomes relatively useless when it comes to publishing the text and pulling images. While we can change pdf to word, sometimes this will make the formatting fail and mince up your press release. If you need to, keep the text in the body of an email, and link to a secure cloud sharing service where we can pull images from. This helps us immensely, and makes it less of a challenge when publishing press releases.
While it might be easier to doll up a poster by yourself, and you might do a stellar job, it might also be best to put that creative aspect aside and hire someone to create your poster images. This is one of the enduring aspects of your film that will help build public awareness of it, and standing out is essential. An obviously average poster is going to harm your film more than you need, especially after having worked so hard to get it made in the first place. While I understand that budget constraints are a harsh reality of indie filmmaking, this aspect of promotion might just be the thing that’ll help get your film noticed.
Take Hot Mess for example – a film made on fumes, their poster artwork and promotional material helped sell the tone of the film perfectly, and immediately stuck out in the sea of promotional materials. It’s simple, but it’s also not just a production still with a title overlay. Be a little creative, and make something that’ll stick out.
Get it Listed
This suggestion may vary from person to person, especially if your film ends up with a larger distributor who will do this work for you, but once your film is in production, get it set up on IMDb and Letterboxd, and eventually, Rotten Tomatoes. If your film isn’t on these film-focused platforms, then it very well may not exist.
For Letterboxd, you’ll want to establish your film via TMDb, which will allow it to be added to the Letterboxddatabase. For IMDb, follow this helpful guide on how to establish your film on there. For Rotten Tomatoes, the entry on IMDb should filter through to their service, but if not, then contact them here for assistance.
Once films are on these platforms, viewers will be able to rate, review, and track your film. Letterboxdis increasingly becoming the platform for film discussions to take place, and for premium users, they can be notified when your film comes to a streaming platform if it’s on their watchlist.
There is also the process of getting your film live on FilmFreeway, which will be vital if you’re looking at going through the film festival route. Check out the How it Works section of their site for all guidance on how the service works. Keep in mind, there are often fees associated with film festivals, so budget accordingly, and…
Carefully Wear Those Laurels
Once your film is done, and you’ve gotten it live on FilmFreeway for festival submission, you’ll likely start getting a lot of smaller festivals around the world reaching out to you for your film. At first, this might sound great, but exercise caution.
While being accepted into film festivals is great, and certainly helps boost exposure, there are plenty of international film festivals that exist just to syphon money off willing filmmakers who can afford the $50 fee. Yes, a poster full of laurels and festival wins and submissions is wonderful, but the average viewer is unlikely to be swayed by this, and there’s a very strong chance that micro-budget festival in the hotel room of Melbourne, Florida, where two people attend might work against your film.
This one is a personal point of view, but having too many laurels on your poster can do more harm than good. Especially if the laurels are from no-name film festivals that are nowhere near where your intended audience is. If you’re an Australian filmmaker who’s looking to build an Australian audience, then seek out local film festivals that have a good online presence. Often these micro-festivals will have little social media presence and exist just to suck up funds from eager indie filmmakers.
With that in mind, use your intelligence and assess whether spending the money on an out of reach festival submission is the right thing for your film. Is trying to reach the middle America audience really that vital? Or, could you build an audience back home? As an indie filmmaker, a dollar goes a long way, and with tight pockets, you need to ensure you don’t get fleeced from opportunistic festivals.
Read about Australian filmmakers Claire J. Harris’ experience with film festivals when shopping around her film Zelos. As horrifying as it sounds, there are countless faux-film-festivals that exist just to drain your bank account. If you’re not sure about reputable places, then reach out to your industry brethren and ask the community for assistance. They might know which festivals are more trustworthy than others, especially international festivals. This process is often an unexpected cost, so keep this in mind when it comes to a post-production world.
Hot Off the Press
Whether you’re self-distributing your film, or even if your film is snapped up by an eager distributor, you may find yourself needing to run the PR campaign for your film. As such, this is where all of the hard work, planning, preparing, and organisation, pays off.
With your organised press release, your behind-the-scenes photos, your social media presence well and truly established, a trailer and poster in hand and, if possible, a review link for critics at the ready, you’re going to want to reach out to reputable and reliable critics and media outlets. If you’re not sure who to get in contact with, a look at the AFCA members page will give you a good idea of who’s active in the Australian film criticism sphere. Being aware of the local film media sphere is useful too, but we’re all fairly approachable folks, so even after all your searching you’re still unsure who to get in touch with, reach out to us and we’ll help out. We want to help you.
With that in mind, understand and learn how to follow up with a request. While there are a lot of critics out there who are happy to say yes – I’m one of them! – they are often time poor and needing to work a full-time job just to sustain a hobby or side-career as a critic, which in itself they’re often not paid for. If your film is time sensitive, with screenings upcoming, then give enough leeway for the critic to get their review or coverage up – a month is suitable.
If your budget allows it, run advertising on websites that you feel will help boost your reach. This might be a costly figure you didn’t anticipate, but it certainly helps us keep the lights on, and helps promote your film as much as possible.
When it comes to doing interviews, practice makes perfect. Sit down with a friend before you do your first interview, and blow off the anxiety that comes with it by doing a test run. If it helps, read or listen to interviews to get an idea of what might be expected of you. I’ve done more than a few interviews, and honestly, there have been times that I’ve wanted to tell the filmmaker, think about what I’ve asked you and we’ll come back in a day and do it over again.
If you feel that this might be you, then don’t be afraid to ask for a list of potential questions beforehand. We often don’t stick to the script, but if it will help, then having these questions beforehand might assist with preparation. We’re only human, and we’re certainly more than happy to help out where we can.
Learn How to Take a Hit
Finally, learn how to take criticism.
This is something that is hard to prepare for, especially since it’s folks like me often dishing up thoughts on your hard work. But, it’s worthwhile learning and appreciating that your film might not be for everyone, or even if someone likes it, there may be aspects that they didn’t appreciate.
You may decide to not even read reviews or listen to criticism, and that’s perfectly fine, but if you do, do it carefully. Don’t let the criticism – good or bad – go to your head. It’s only one person’s opinion.
If you find yourself getting burning fingers and wanting to send off an email to that critic to set them straight, well, that’s in your right, but maybe just write it up first, and sleep on it, then decide whether you really want to send that email off in the morning. This happens oh so rarely, but the fact that it has happened has me putting it here.
And that’s it. There is so much more out there that will help you as a filmmaker, especially in this rough, changing world. But, from a media perspective, I know that these are things that would help us help you.
Let us know what your tips and suggestions are for filmmakers out there. What do you feel is the best thing to do as a filmmaker? Or, if you’re in the media, what do you think would help filmmakers with the promotional process of their film? Let us know in the comments below.
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