Film Biz 101: Anatomy of an Indie Film Release

 by Michael D. SellersWith the theatrical release of MovieBank Studios and Quantum Entertainment’s  Eye of the Dolphin looming, many are asking questions about the whole release process. Following is a rundown on what is typical for an indie theatrical release on the level that we are carrying out.BookingTheater bookings are accomplished either by using in-house personnel or working with one of a number of theatrical bookers who may be hired by independent films and distribution companies. A well established booker will have longstanding relations with many of the theater chains nationwide who will need to be approached as the theater lineup is established. The booking process usually begins with phone calls from the booker to theater chain representatives (also called “bookers”, only in this case they represent the theaters, not the films) and attempt to elicit a preliminary expression of interest and possible playdates. This is followed by submission of a viewing DVD and marketing materials, including (often times but not always) the planned promotional plan for the particular markets involved. There are then follow-ups, more discussions,and gradually theaters are lined up and playdates confirmed. It is important to understand that for a quality film with marketing money to spend, obtaining theaters is not as difficult as might be imagined – keeping in mind that in every multi-plex, operators are acutely aware of how each of the 16, 20, or 24 screens are performing. An indie film does not need to achieve #1 status in a given multiplex – rather, it simply needs to show that it has a reasonable chance of rising to middle of the crop to justify receiving the screens. A key aspect of the theater chains analysis will be to determine how marketable the movie is , and if they do judge it to be marketable – then the next aspect of the analysis is to ensure that sufficient marketing funds are going to be expended in the market to cause the film to in fact attract an audience. In the end – through this process of phone calls, submission of materials, discussion of marketing plans – a theater lineup is established and a playdate is determined.Physical Elements Typically, elements which need to be created for the marketing campaign and the film’s release include the following:• 35mm Film Trailers: Typically with independent films, trailers are initially created for digital distribution only (on promotional DVD’s and the web) and thus as the theatrical release approaches, a 35mm film version of the trailer must be created and sufficient copies made to be distributed to the theaters. Although there are exceptions, distributors generally want to have 5 trailers for every actual screen – thus for a 200 screen release, 1000 trailers would be created and distributed, at a minimum 4 weeks in advance of the film’s release and if possible sooner. These full-length trailers are typically 90-120 seconds in length. Indie films are encouraged to remain closer to the 90 second length as it is a general rule of thumb that shorter trailers get more play in theaters.• TV Trailer Versions: 60’s, 30’s, 15’s. These shorter versions of the trailer are prepared for use in television and cable spots, and on the internet. (The long version is also used on the internet.)• “Key Art”: The “movie poster” underlying material is known as “key art” and is is prepared and approved, sometimes more than one version or “campaign” – sometimes just a single campaign. The core version of this is in typical movie poster format but the key art is produced in such a way that it can easily be modified for various subuses, other than lobby posters.• Internet Banner and Popup Ads: These are usually derived from the key art.• Press Kits: These typically come in the form of a folder which includes production notes, interviews, stills from the movie, photos and bios of the actors and director, and any other material which the publicist, distributor, and producer think will be helpful. A certain number of physical kits are prepared. Increasingly, a “press kit” or “press room” is added to the website to allow journalists easy access to press materials.• Website: The website is a key component which draws some of its elements from the key art, and usually incorporates the trailer into its presentation. Websites for movies are becoming increasingly sophisticated and are a major component to the promotion of the film.• Other Web Pages: MySpace, Facebook, Koolse, and other sites generally have their owns site for the movie which members of each particular virtual community can visit.The Promotional CampaignThe promotional campaign leading up to the release of a film begins a minimum of 8-12 weeks prior to the release of the film and is designed to bring the promotion to a level of maximum exposure at the time of release. Indie campaign are typically less well funded that major studio campaigns, and this tends to limit certain types of advertising (national broadcast television ads being an obvious example). Working within the limitsof budget and targeting markets where the film will actually be released on its initial run, the following elements are typically deployed:• Internet Campaign: Typically, an internet campaign will consist of trailer uploads to all movie sites and other sites (Youtube, etc) accepting trailers; banner ads on sites that are compatible with the release (i.e. horror films, for example, pay for banner ads on horror sites); MySpace and FaceBook; also special arrangements (some overt, others not) with bloggers and moviesites ensuring coverage. (Note: The line between publicity and paid advertising is sometimes blurred, especially on the internet).• Trailer Placement: Typically, trailers are distributed to multiplexes where the film is expected to play and within that multiplex, it is placed on as many screens as possible – again, usually, with films that are compatible to the projected release. (i.e. horror trailers won’t play in front of a family film, etc).• TV Ads: Independent releases typically cannot afford national broadcast television ad placement, but they are able to purchase ads in specific markets and some national ads on cable stations are typically placed.• Billboards: These are a traditional component, not used as much for indie films as for major studio releases. Often some billboards are taken out in the Los Angeles/Hollywood area, usually in heavily trafficked areas of the entertainment industry. Billboards used in this manner are more in the realm of “trade ads” (i.e. directed at industry professionals as opposed to consumers) rather than consumer ads.• Radio: Typically radio ads in target markets are undertaken in combination with promotions (t-shirt, free ticket giveaways) and interviews of the stars, film-makers, etc.• Print Ads: These are required by the theater chains and are one of the most expensive aspects of an indie film release.• Publicity: Typically for a release a publicity firm is retained and that firm undertakes to achieve as much placement of articles and listings as possible in all media in target markets. Typically the publicity firm is also responsible for overseeing the arrangements for a red-carpet premiere, which is principally intended as a means to generate additional timely publicity for the film in the days before its release.• Special Screenings: Special screenings of the movie in key target audiences are set up, and various giveaways – t-shirts, etc – are carried out in hopes of establishing a core audience who will generate advance word of mouth for the film.There are other techniques and media that can be deployed, but the foregoing covers the basics of the typical pre-release campaign.

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~ by Michael Sellers on June 7, 2007.

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