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How to promote your independent film

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Written by Esther C

Published Jun 22, 2023

In today's crowded entertainment landscape, where countless films are released every year and cinemas are competing with streaming platforms, promoting your independent film is key to cutting through the noise and gaining attention.

Unfortunately, creating a remarkable film is just not enough to guarantee its success or secure an audience. Promotion acts as the bridge that connects your film with its intended viewers, creating opportunities for audiences to discover and fall in love with your film. 

Having a well-rounded promotion plan will make a significant difference to your film promotion, so in this detailed guide we break down everything you need to know to promote your film.

Contents

  1. Why do you need to promote your independent film?
  2. 6 ways to promote your independent film:
    • Engage social media
    • Apply to film festivals
    • Seek collaboration
    • Find niche communities
    • Host a premiere or screening
    • Seek reviews or press coverage
  3. What is the most effective way to promote your film? 
  4. When should you start promoting your film?
  5. How do you budget for the promotion costs of an independent film? 
  6. Final thoughts

Why do you need to promote your independent film?

image of a cinema at night with neon signage

Unlike studio films with large in-house marketing teams and budgets to promote a film release, you're responsible for creating your own buzz around your film. Independent films generally have limited theatrical release or may only be shown online which means the release won't gather a lot of organic traffic.

So whether you go through traditional advertising, social media campaigns, word-of-mouth, or collaborations with influencers, promotion enables you to capture the attention of your desired audience and persuade them to give your film a chance.

Effective promotion can attract the attention of distributors and streaming platforms who are looking for compelling independent films to acquire or license. The increased visibility and buzz surrounding your film can lead to distribution deals, both in theatres and through digital platforms, expanding its reach to a wider audience.

Promoting your film can also bring it to the attention of critics and potentially lead to recognition through nominations at film festivals or industry awards which can significantly enhance your film's reputation and credibility. Winning these awards can further elevate the film's chances of securing distribution, attracting audiences, and establishing your credibility as a filmmaker.

Promotion is not just limited to the time leading up to the film's release. It can extend beyond that to create a lasting impact and ongoing engagement with your audience. By cultivating a dedicated fan base and nurturing relationships with supporters, you can sustain interest in your film even after its initial release. This ongoing promotion not only benefits your current project but also paves the way for future endeavours, establishing your brand as a filmmaker and building a loyal following.

6 ways to promote your independent film

Engage social media

image of a smartphone filming two people having an interview

Establish a strong online presence by creating accounts on popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Here you can share behind-the-scenes photos, teasers, updates, and engage with your audience. Encourage followers to share and spread the word about your film.

Video content is highly engaging and shareable on social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. People love to view behind-the-scenes videos, interviews with the cast and crew and even short clips from your film. You can also share video content on your website and through collaborations with popular content creators in the film industry. They can help create buzz and reach wider audiences through their social media channels or dedicated platforms.

Social media platforms also provide an interactive space to engage with your audience. Respond to comments, messages, and mentions to foster a sense of community and appreciation. You can also encourage discussions, pose questions, and invite feedback to involve your audience in the promotion of your film. Engaging with your audience helps build relationships, generate excitement, and create a loyal fan base who will support and advocate for your film.

Social media provides an ideal space for running contests or giveaways related to your film. Encourage your followers to participate by sharing your content, tagging friends, or answering questions related to your film. This can help expand your reach as participants share your content with their networks.

Your social media accounts also provide valuable insights and analytics on post performance, audience demographics, engagement rates, and more. You can use these metrics to understand which types of content resonate best with your audience and adjust your strategy accordingly. Monitoring social media metrics helps you optimise your content, identify trends, and refine your promotional efforts for maximum impact.

Apply to film festivals

black and white image of a crowd gathered outside a Sundance Film Festival theatre
Photo by Gela Delrose

It’s a great idea to submit your film to relevant film festivals, both locally and internationally. Just remember to research and target film festivals that align with your film's genre, theme, or target audience. Rather than using a scattergun approach, consider the reputation and submission requirements of each festival before deciding which ones to enter.

Film festivals attract plenty of media attention so being part of a festival can generate buzz through receiving press coverage, interviews, reviews and articles which can all help raise the profile of your film. Film festivals often have jury panels comprised of experts in the field who evaluate and award films based on their quality, creativity, and storytelling. Winning awards or even receiving nominations at prestigious festivals can significantly enhance your film's reputation.

Film festivals can serve as a platform to showcase your film to potential distributors, sales agents, or streaming platforms who attend the festivals seeking new projects. A positive reception at a festival can lead to distribution offers or licensing opportunities, helping your film reach a wider audience.

Film festivals also attract passionate film enthusiasts who appreciate independent cinema. Screenings at festivals can help you build a dedicated fanbase that appreciates your work and will continue to follow your future projects and supports your artistic endeavours.

For a list of film festivals in the UK, browse the British Council Film festival directory.

Seek collaboration

image of three women hosting an event in an office
Photo by Dani Hart

Partner with other filmmakers, artists, or organisations that share similar values or target audiences. Collaborative efforts can help amplify your reach and generate mutual support.

Partnering with other independent filmmakers who have a similar target audience or share thematic or stylistic elements can be mutually beneficial. You can cross-promote each other's films through social media shoutouts, joint screenings, or even bundling your films together for distribution. By tapping into each other's networks, you can expand your reach and expose your film to new audiences.

Establishing partnerships with local businesses, or film-related organisations in your community can also expand your audience. There are opportunities to collaborate on screenings, events, or joint marketing efforts, for example, you can organise a screening at a local theatre, collaborate with a bookstore for a book signing event if your film is based on a book, or team up with a local film society for a themed film series. These collaborations can help tap into established networks, access new audiences, and generate word-of-mouth promotion.

Engaging with film commissions, industry associations, or film schools can offer additional resources and platforms for promotion. You could collaborate on workshops, panel discussions, or mentoring programs to help you establish relationships with industry professionals and gain exposure for your film.

Find niche communities

image of a woman sitting on her couch and using her laptop
Photo by Vlada Karpovich

First you'll need to identify online forums or groups that align with the theme or genre of your film. These groups are a rich source of passionate people and can be found on Reddit, Facebook Groups, or film forums like IndieTalk. Engage with these communities by sharing relevant content and participating in discussions to create awareness and generate interest. 

It's essential to approach them with authenticity, respect, and a genuine interest in the topics. This means engaging with the community as a participant, not just a promoter, and prioritising building meaningful relationships. By establishing yourself as a valuable member of the community, you can foster long-term support and create a strong foundation for promoting your independent film.

Niche communities tend to be closely connected, both online and offline. When your film resonates with these communities, members are more likely to share their enthusiasm and recommendations with each other. This can lead to organic word-of-mouth promotion, which is highly valuable in generating buzz and expanding your film's reach.

Niche communities often have influential individuals, bloggers, or content creators who are respected and followed by community members. Collaborating with these influencers can provide access to their dedicated fan bases and help you tap into your target audience. Content creators may want to review your film, share it with their followers, or participate in discussions related to your film's niche.

Host a premiere or screening

image of people sitting in a cinema watching a movie with popcorn
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

A premiere or screening event creates a sense of excitement around your film. By inviting industry professionals, press, influencers, friends, family, and supporters, you can build anticipation and generate positive word-of-mouth before the film's official release.

Hosting a premiere or screening event also provides an opportunity to capture high-quality promotional material. You could hire a professional photographer, record video interviews, and capture memorable moments during the event for example on the red carpet. These assets can be used for future marketing efforts, including social media posts, press releases, trailers, and promotional materials.

Premieres and screenings allow you to engage directly with your fans and supporters too. This personal connection can help build a dedicated fan base that is enthusiastic about your film and invested in your future projects. So make sure to chat with attendees, express your appreciation, and encourage them to share their experience on social media to amplify the promotion of your film.

Another valuable benefit of hosting a screening is receiving immediate feedback. Pay attention to the audience's emotional response, laughter, or engagement during the screening. Q&A sessions after the screening provide another opportunity to engage with the audience, answer questions, and gain valuable insights into how your film was received. This feedback can help you fine-tune your marketing strategy and refine your film for wider release.

Seek reviews and press coverage

image of a man sitting outside reading a newspaper
Photo by Roman Kraft

It's important to develop a targeted approach when seeking reviews and press coverage. Research and reach out to relevant journalists, critics, bloggers, and media outlets that cover independent films or cater to your film's specific genre, themes, or niche. When you reach out, it's a great idea to provide them with press releases, screeners, or invitations to screenings.

When journalists, bloggers, or critics write about your film, they introduce it to their readership, extending your reach to new audiences who may not have been aware of your film otherwise. This exposure can lead to increased interest, engagement, and potential viewership.

Positive reviews and press coverage also provide credibility and validation for your independent film. They serve as independent assessments of your work and positive endorsements can help build trust among potential viewers.

Reviews and press coverage can serve as valuable marketing material for you. Pulling quotes from positive reviews or featuring snippets of press coverage in your promotional materials, such as posters, trailers, or social media posts, can help entice potential viewers. These endorsements act as testimonials that can influence audience perception and generate interest in your film.

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What is the most effective way to promote your film? 

A comprehensive approach covering at least two or three of the promotion strategies mentioned above is the most effective way to promote your film because it broadens your reach across multiple channels.

It's also beneficial to combine online and in-person promotion. For example, engaging with online communities as well as submitting a film to film festivals works well in tandem to reach fans and industry professionals. 

Although you could promote your film using all of the techniques we mentioned above, you will probably find you are constrained by time and budget.

When should you start promoting your film?

image of a wall covered in movie posters

Some promotional activities will require you to have completed the post-production  process, for example creating a captivating trailer and film festival submissions. However, you can start building a social media  presence at anytime, and because this takes time, the sooner the better. You can share updates and behind the scenes content throughout the filming process to connect with independent film fans. 

If you plan to submit your film to film festivals, be aware of their submission deadlines. Research and identify festivals that align with your film's genre, theme, or target audience, and take note of their submission dates. Then plan your promotional timeline accordingly, allowing enough time to complete your film and meet the festival deadlines.

You'll need to determine the release date of your film whether you have a theatrical premiere, a festival screening, or launch on a streaming platform. Ideally, you should start promoting your film several weeks or months before the premiere or release to build anticipation and generate buzz among your target audience. It helps to consider your marketing and distribution strategy because if you plan to self-distribute your film, you may want to start promoting it earlier to create awareness and attract potential distribution partners. If you have secured distribution, coordinate with your distributor to align your promotional efforts with their marketing plans.

Give yourself enough lead time to create high-quality promotional materials such as trailers, posters, still images, and a website. These materials are essential for engaging your audience, generating interest, and capturing the attention of industry professionals and the media. Starting early will ensure you have ample time to develop compelling promotional assets.

How do you budget for the promotion costs of an independent film? 

image of a cinema entrance at night with neon signage
Photo by Myke Simon

It’s important to create a budget for your film promotion so you can use your funds effectively and avoid overspending or having to reduce your number of channels. Promoting an independent film doesn't always require a large budget — online promotion via social media and niche communities is a low-cost strategy while organising in-person events requires a larger investment.

If you want to raise more funds for marketing and distribution you could consider launching a crowdfunding campaign on platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Crowdfunding allows you to tap into the support of your fans, friends, and the wider community who are enthusiastic about your project.

By sharing your campaign on social media and through email newsletters, you can rally your supporters to contribute and spread the word. Engaging your audience in the fundraising process cultivates a sense of ownership and involvement, increasing their investment in the success of your film. Make sure to engage with your audience throughout the campaign, provide regular updates, offer exclusive perks to incentivise support, and express gratitude for their support.

Costs to consider including in your budget:

  • Engaging publicists or PR agencies to help generate media coverage, manage press releases, organise interviews, and coordinate press screenings can be a significant expense. The cost will depend on the level of expertise and the duration of the campaign.
  • Advertising and media buying costs can include online advertising, print ads, radio spots, billboards, or even TV commercials, depending on the target audience and your distribution strategy. Advertising costs can vary greatly depending on the reach and duration of the campaign.
  • Organising premieres, special screenings, or promotional events will include costs like venue hire, event production, red carpet arrangements, catering, invitations, and any additional logistics.
  • Submitting your film to film festivals involves entry fees that can range from a few pounds to several hundred per submission. Additionally, if your film gets accepted into festivals, there may be costs associated with travel, accommodation, and marketing materials for festival screenings.
  • If you plan to attend other industry events or engage in distribution negotiations, then you'll need to budget for travel, accommodation, and related expenses.

Final thoughts

A well-executed promotion strategy increases the chances of your film being discovered and can open doors for future filmmaking opportunities. Promoting your independent film requires a broad approach to combine online and offline promotion including social media engagement, targeting niche communities, collaborating with others, leveraging film festivals, and seeking reviews and press coverage.

By employing these strategies and adapting them to your film's unique qualities and target audience, you can maximise its exposure, and increase its chances of success.

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