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Marketing an Independent Film or Documentary through Press Releases

written by: Nancy Fulton•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/13/2010

Have you created a documentary film you are passionate about? Have you produced a short film or an independent feature you want people to see? Guerrilla marketing through correctly targeted press releases to reach millions of your customers cost effectively.

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    Making People Want to See Your Film

    The first law of marketing is, you can't change people's minds cheaply. If you are marketing a film and you do not have a huge marketing budget, your objective is not to find the people who need to see your movie. It is to find the people who want to see it. When enough people who want to see it can find it, a lot of other people will find it too.

    A film needs to find its niche markets. So the first step in marketing a film is making a list of all the people who will enjoy the film. Oddly, that is often easier said that done. People have an instinct that drives them to think in terms of demographics. Black men under the age of 25, married women over 40 and kids 8-12. This is entirely the wrong way to identify your target market. Instead, think of issues and causes your film addresses. For example, JUNO is a film about a pregnant girl deciding to have a baby and giving it up for adoption. BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING is about a marriage within the greek community. PASSION OF THE CHRIST is about the crucifixion of Christ.

    Now, think about what people who have an interest those issues or causes are likely to look up online or read in a new paper or find in a magazine. Your marketing objective should be to put yourself where those people look. In the case of PASSION OF THE CHRIST, Gibson ran previews of the shows in churches. BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING opened in greek communities on the east coast. People knew JUNO was about an unwed mother long before they knew anything else about the film.

    The objective is not to tie your film inextricably to a single cause, it is to put your film in front of people who will find it relevant to things they care about. Note that you may well decide to put your film in places where people who will hate it lurk. When O'Reilly attacked Fahrenheit 9/11, I'm sure Michael Moore wanted to send him roses. The controversy stirred up by talk shows over that film guaranteed that everyone nationwide heard about it. Though a substantial majority of folks who watch conservative news shows were not customers for Michael Moore's movie, many others forced to watch with them, were.

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    The Magic of the Internet Press Release

    There are many websites, like, that provide press release distribution services that can be of great value to independent film and documentary producers. Most of these services distribute to lists of reporters, journalists and article writers via email. Perhaps more important, they release news to content aggregators like and Millions of sites world wide are configured to pull articles from these websites based on keywords.

    So a good press release that points back to your website, speaks to the folks who are most likely to buy your film, and uses keywords that target your audience, can work miracles almost overnight. Paying for press release distribution can be a little expensive. Sending a press release very broadly can cost $200. But there is probably no better internet-based marketing than sending two or three well targeted, search engine optimized, press releases over a period of several months.

    Learning how to write an interesting, entertaining, insightful, motivating press release takes time, and there is a bit of trial and error involved. It is much easier if you have stars in your film that you can talk about or get quotes from. It is also easier if you can talk about people from your target market who have seen it and like it. This is one reason production companies so frequently do pre-screenings for their films.

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    Finding the Right Words

    To learn how to write a great, keyword targeted and search engine optimized press release, look at press releases written by the studios to promote their films. You will quickly be able to see how marketing teams at the studios effectively target audiences through keywords.

The Film Business: How To Produce Feature Films

Film production, like any business, is a trade that can be learned. This series of articles its a nuts and bolts introduction to the business of film for new and struggling film producers. Learn how to find film funding, how to create a film package investors like, how to choose a script, and more.
  1. Film Funding Fundamentals - Writing a Solid Film Business Plan
  2. Marketing an Independent Film or Documentary through Press Releases