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12 Months in the Making: How ‘Boyhood’ Crafted a Memorable Campaign

Many complain about the short memories of Oscar voters, but two of this year’s best picture nominees were released more than six months ago: “Boyhood” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Of the two, it’s “Boyhood” that has the better chance to take top honors, having spent recent weeks racking up critics’ prizes and a Golden Globe drama win.

Yet a year ago, when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the film was overshadowed by titles like “Whiplash” and “The Skeleton Twins.” There was very little further discussion until “Boyhood” opened July 11 to a near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet before the big fall festivals, it was still too early to start talking Oscar.

So how did this $2.4 million indie with no major stars land become a heavy hitter in a tight awards season?

Chalk it up to an early opening, and a LOT of personal appearances. Director Richard Linklater and co-stars Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater have been tirelessly making the rounds, from guild and industry screenings on both coasts all the way to Los Cabos and many other film festivals.

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According to Jonathan Sehring, the president of IFC Films who has been a producer , the early release was part of the plan: “Our primary goal once we picked a July release date was to have as many people as possible see this film on a bigscreen in a theater,” he says. “We always believed that the film deserved awards recognition and we knew we couldn’t sit around and wait until the fall to start getting various industry groups in to see the film.”

As other films came and went throughout the year, “Boyhood” marketers managed to keep it in the conversation, with help from plenty of positive press.

In October, the cast was in Los Angeles for screenings and Q&As. On at least one night at the Arclight in Hollywood, they were set to attend two Q&As back to back. A third had to be added due to popular demand – all three were packed to capacity. In the last two months, the heat of awards season, Linklater and his cast have been tireless in continuing appearances at guild and industry screenings on both coasts.

And while IFC may not have had the marketing budget of awards perennials like the Weinstein Co., “Boyhood” organized an impressive grassroots campaign. On the film’s Twitter account, moviegoers were asked to contribute their experiences of seeing the film, and the site retweeted praise from well-known names. And IFC launched the Nostalgia Generator, asking for people to share their favorite childhood memories. 

Much was made of the 12 years Linklater spent making the film; theaters featured displays showing photographs of the actors over the course of production, and props from some of the early scenes. Journalists and industry insiders were sent copies of “Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film,” a hardcover collection of photographs from the set.

But marketing can do only so much if the movie doesn’t have the goods. “We all knew we were involved with something truly unique the first time we saw the film, and that was confirmed when we had our first screening one year ago at Sundance,” Sehring says. “The movie didn’t start until after 10 p.m. which meant it didn’t end until close to 1 a.m. but the entire audience was with the movie. When the first question from an audience member was from a 19- year-old who said, ‘This movie is my life,’ we knew it was something special.”

Filmgoers responded to the movie in a way that even caught its filmmaker by surprise. At the Golden Globes, Linklater confessed to being somewhat stunned by the response to the picture. “We made a film that was personal to us and it ended up being personal to the world,” he noted.

Perhaps because the movie has that kind of universal appeal — everyone has endured a childhood — Linklater has made a small film that is winning big.

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