It’s not easy winning attention if you’re a small-to-micro budgeted indie, but deft filmmakers are finding a way around the problem by transforming their soundtracks into marketing tools that can raise their pic’s profile while giving it a hip spin.

Trimark’s “Love and a .45” is a bloody road romance pic that recently garnered attention for its gritty soundtrack, released by Epic. The pic is the work of first-time director CM. Talkington, who fueled his film with a musical mix from hot alternative acts like the Flaming Lips, Reverend Horton Heat, Mazzy Star, and country gems by Johnny Cash and Roger Miller. Score is composed by Tom Verlaine, a former member of the band Television.

A former musician himself, Talkington says he selected more than half of the music while he was writing the script. The result, he says, is a mix that particularly lends itself to the veracity of his pic’s white trash, star-crossed leads.

“I was probably as much involved with the soundtrack as I was with directing the actors,” says Talkington. Nonetheless, he used the music sparingly throughout neo-noir tale, because he says he doesn’t like it “when actors have to compete with a booming soundtrack.”

Pilar McCurry, one of the soundtrack’s executive producers, was responsible for suggesting cuts that would gel with Talkington’s vision. “We thought the hot alternative acts could actually pull that off,” says McCurry, “while also satisfying the record-buying public.”

David Bowers, director of worldwide publicity for Trimark, was responsible for an aggressive marketing campaign which included taking advantage of Epic’s distribution system and college reps, as well as tie-ins with radio stations, record retailers, and in some markets, giving away CDs to the first 200 patrons of the movie.

“It was a way to physically drive people into the theaters,” says Bowers, “because we thought that once these people had seen the film, there would be strong word of mouth.” Bowers sees the CD as a “crucial tool” to marketing the film, and one that will remain effective while selling to the homevideo and international markets.

Musical marketing

First-time director Vincent Roberts is banking on ‘horror-core’ rap to set the tone for his psychological thriller/horror pic “The Fear,” featuring horror mainstay Wes Craven in a cameo role. The Warlock Records soundtrack includes acts such as the Gravediggaz, Machete, Flatlinerz, and a title track from Detroit acid rap phenom Esham, whose video is receiving extensive play on cable channel The Box.

Executive producer Greg Sims feels the partnership was critical to the film’s marketing plan. “When you’re doing independent movies and trying to do something different and special for very little money,” says Sims, “a lot of times it’s all about what you do musically.”

The practice is hot on the other side of the Atlantic as well. Michael Almereyda’s much-touted vampire film “Nadja,” fresh from Sundance, sports a score by longtime Derek Jarman collaborator Simon Fisher-Turner, (“Edward II,” “Last of England,” “Blue”) and features hip British neo-jazz artists Portishead mixed with alternative vanguards My Bloody Valentine and newer groups like the Verve and Space Hog.

Soundtracks have become so essential that even pix produced on micro-micro budgets of less than $250,000 are setting aside precious funds to guarantee themselves top-notch music. Some filmmakers even convince notable film composers to work out of the goodness of their hearts, rather than for coin.

First-time helmer Paul Duran managed to land Mark Mothersbaugh, a veteran of the ’80s band Devo and composer for studio pix “The New Age” and “It’s Pat,” to not only score Duran’s “Flesh Suitcase,” but to act as a musical consultant.

Duran co-wrote the film, an offbeat actioner about drug trade, keeping a certain sound in mind, which he describes as “French New Wave meets cocktail jazz.”

The acts used for the soundtrack include SubPop artists Combustible Edison and the exotic atmospheric music of Martin Denny, as well as such disco-era chestnuts as “Precious and Few” by Climax and Patti La- Belle’s “Lady Marmalade.”

Duran, who premiered “Suitcase” at this year’s “Slamdance,” the Utah film festival held as an alternative to the increasingly staid Sundance affair, had to battle his producers over “Precious and Few,” a song around which he had constructed an entire scene.

“The problem was that it was expensive. I understand the point of view of cost containment, but it’s more than just a production value question. Once you hear the opening bars, there’s immediate recognition that you don’t get if you compose something no one’s ever heard of.”

Though there is no soundtrack CD yet – Duran is seeking distribution for the pic – when it does come out it’s likely to be on Mothersbaugh’s Mutmuz label. “We’d love to do it,” says Mothersbaugh. “I’m interested in music more interesting than your ‘soup du jour.’ It’s off-center, the kind of thing I’d want to hear on a turntable.”