There is one easy way for a low-budget pic to stretch its marketing dollars: Get somebody else to foot the bill.
“We put the maximum emphasis on elements that are free,” says Nancy Utley, Fox Searchlight’s president of theatrical marketing.
For her Aug. 20 release of “Thirteen” in seven cities, for instance, Utley doesn’t want to market the R-rated film directly to teens, but to a slightly older, more sophisticated audience. So instead of partnering with Revlon or Pepsi, she is concentrating on screenings for school counselors and teen psychologists.. She’s also trying to get pic’s writer-director Catherine Hardwicke and young star Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote, onto “Dr. Phil” or “Oprah.”
The word-of-mouth campaign extends to the government, even. Utley says, “We’re hosting a screening in Washington, where there will be guests from Congress as well as Planned Parenthood and the Brookings Institute. We think the movie sheds light on teen problems today.”
While free publicity is almost always welcome, marketing executives who specialize in independent film say that promotions make the difference, especially when partners pick up most of the tab for contests, fliers, premieres and special events.
Everything else is fairly traditional — hiring a publicist, holding screenings, setting up personal appearance tours and buying ads. The difference in the scale between the average $400,000 indie marketing budget and $40 million studio tab has to do mostly with the intensity of campaigns and number of ad buys. (But the percentages are similar.)
The big money tends to go to media buys, with the man-hours going into promotions.
And in the indie world, promotions are not about Happy Meals or flavored Oreos. Instead, they are a complicated and diverse assortment of partners who provide measurable returns on modest investments. The participants range from Revlon to local diners to anyone who is willing to host an event or provide a prize.
Promotions are what made the difference on last summer’s B.O. sleeper “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” at least according to the marketing team that spent months hitting up every Greek diner in the New York metropolitan area, every Greek Orthodox Church, and every bridal salon — many times over. “There are grassroot efforts for a lot of films, but what we had was persistence,” says IFC Films’ director of marketing Nevette Previd.
The total costs for these kinds of efforts rarely exceed $20,000, says Ray Forsythe, a partner at P&F Communications, a promotions specialist in New York. For the most part, the costs are minimal — just a ream of fliers or postcards.
“For ‘Whale Rider,’ (we lined) up 15 or 20 New York restaurants. We put all the logos on one ad, and each contributed a dinner for two. For a week prior to the opening, every check had a ‘Whale Rider’ postcard attached,” says Forsythe.
Pic also held screenings at the New Zealand consulate, the Smithsonian and Chicago’s Field Museum.
The drive for promotions extends to those films where there are no stars, and even when the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to glitz or retail partnerships.
To get the word out on “Capturing the Friedmans,” the Sundance-winning documentary about a family accused of child molestation, Magnolia Films prexy Eammon Bowles relied mostly on the traditional mix of reviews and feature stories.
But he credits the film’s box office prowess to special screenings held across the country, which were attended by director Andrew Jarecki and the pic’s title family.
“The filmmaker has been indefatigable,” Bowles says. “The ad spend has been incredibly modest on this film, yet we’ve had an amazing amount of exposure. We’ve spent less than $35,000 for a $400,000 gross.”