Running docu sprints to theater finish line

'Hood' uses runners' community to find success

In today’s social media climate, movie marketers are emphasizing the importance of tailoring publicity to each film uniquely; no longer can PR plans be one-size-fits-all.

But even with the reach of Facebook and Twitter, the filmmakers behind documentary “Hood to Coast” also used a more old-school social network to promote their film — one based on in-person social interaction.

“Hood to Coast,” which played at South by Southwest last year, follows four teams as they prepare for and run one of the longest relays with the highest number of participants in the world — the Hood to Coast.

Held annually in Oregon in August, the race spans 197 miles run by 1,250 12-person teams. The film was a labor of love for its producer, Anna Campbell, and director, Christoph Baaden — a husband-and-wife team who have both run the race. The idea for the movie came to them while they were running “Hood to Coast” in 2007. By the end of the marathon, they had plotted out the doc. Filming started in 2008, and after reaching the finishing line, the question was how to get the word out.

Like most docs, “Hood to Coast” had a limited marketing budget. Luckily, there was an already established network to reach out to: the running community. “We had a specific audience to tap into, which a lot of documentaries don’t necessarily have,” Campbell says.

Campbell and company partnered with sports websites such as Active.com, but they also turned to an almost old-fashioned grassroots campaign: A team spent weeks holed up in her house cold calling and e-mailing running orgs all over the country to get the word out about the film’s one-time theatrical berth. Starbucks outlets also featured footage from the doc on its wi-fi homepage.

On Tuesday, “Hood to Coast” will screen in 360 theaters nationwide for one night only.

The NCM Fathom Entertainment event will also feature a live red carpet from Portland, Ore., and a pre-taped panel with celebrities from the running world shot at Nike headquarters. Dan Diamond, VP of NCM Fathom, says the keys to a successful one-night event are having great content, making the event unique with additions like the red carpet and panel and focusing on community.

Community might have a slight edge over the other two: “When you go see a movie with people who have similar interests as you, the conversation before and after is fantastic. People form friendships, and the theater becomes the local community center,” Diamond says.

Campbell is hoping that that community factor will be a frontrunner. “We did put all of our effort into the running community, and our hope is that they come to it in groups and also tell their family and friends about the film,” she says. The challenge of a one-night showing is that it’s basically a one-night shot in the dark; it’s hard to predict how many people will show up, though Diamond says the traffic for the film on Fathom’s website has been “very strong.” As of Jan. 6, Campbell estimated that 7,000 tickets of about 85,000 available seats had been pre-sold.

Ultimately, while the doc has a built-in appeal to the running community, “Hood to Coast” also has to go the distance by crossing over to non-runners. “For us running was the hook, but what’s important is that you start to care about these people,” Campbell says. “It’s not about who wins the race; there’s not really a question about who’s going to win the race. It’s more interesting to follow teams who are running not to win, but for reasons that are incredibly personal.”

That marathon might be over, but for “Hood to Coast,” the race has just begun.