While researching movies and series that I’m doing reviews for (among other things), I’ve been shocked at the number of times I’ve run across independent film and series people who completely miss out on the sorts of promotional cues that I look for as a critic, as a fan, and maybe even – you never know – as a potential backer. After all, this is supposed to be the demographic that “gets it,” right?
To be fair, I know that you’re all busy people, and that most of you would rather just focus on filmmaking. Even Orson Welles couldn’t stand what he called the “98% hustling” component of the movie business. But without big budget agencies to do the hustling for you, you’ve got to do the hustling yourself. (And even if you’ve got the agency, it’s still worth doing an audit every now and again.) While I know a thing or two about business, I’m not going to try and paint myself as a marketing guru or anything like that, and I’m not going to give out any financial advice. However, I am going to point out some things that I look for when I do research that I often just don’t see, and I think you’ll find that many of these things have a direct bearing on your ability to promote and market – or to not promote and not market – yourselves and your projects.
None of this is meant to be an indictment on anyone, and I’m certainly not going to name any names, even if pressed, though I think most of you will find something to recognize about yourselves in at least some of the items below. Rather, this is truly friendly observation and advice from someone who wants you all to succeed.
Yes, I’m a critic, but that doesn’t change the fact that I do want you to succeed. (Don’t tell anyone, but I’m really a nice person.) With that in mind, here are three major items that I’ve seen many of you missing.
I. You need a headshot, and so does your production.
Every acting professional out there knows that he or she needs a headshot. But it’s not just for handing around; it also belongs on every site you use to network and promote yourself. I mean all of them. Your official site, IMDB, LinkedIn, everything. And they’re not just for the actors, either. Directors, producers, grips; get ‘em up there. Having a blank space where the site thoughtfully has a spot reserved for your picture is just like putting up an invitation to be ignored.
Speaking of which… you know that your film or webseries needs a headshot, too, right?
Why yes, there is such a thing. It’s called a poster, and an amazing number of independent productions don’t bother to make one. That’s just like saying “my project isn’t important enough,” and if it’s not important enough to you, why should it be important to me, either as a fan or as a critic… or as a potential backer? And even among those production teams that do make posters, many don’t put them online. (The photo of you at the fan convention with a beautiful one sheet tacked up behind you doesn’t count.) Your poster is your headshot and your business card rolled into one. Respect your project, make one, and get it out there for people to see, in a size where the writing is at least theoretically legible and in a format that’s readily distributed. (PDF does not count; in fact, that’s negative points if it’s the only way you’ve got it. Besides, you want this to show up in a Google image search. If someone else grabs it and puts it up on another site, that’s called free publicity for you.) Every website, every promo kit, everywhere you’re going to market yourself. As with headshots, having a blank space where someone thoughtfully has a spot reserved for your poster is just like putting up an invitation to be ignored.
I know I’ve ignored a few blank spots.
II. You didn’t grab a domain, or you’re not taking advantage of it.
For many of you – I daresay even the majority at this point – the web is at least part of your distribution plan, and even if it’s not, it’s definitely part of your marketing plan.
Facebook isn’t going to cut it, folks. It’s a fine tool and a good way to stay in touch with your audience, but it’s no substitute for an honest-to-goodness official website with a real domain name, as in www dot my-movie-or-series dot com. (I’ll let some of you slide with my-production-company dot com, but 99.99% of the time, doesn’t each project deserve its own spot in the sun?) It looks way more professional (you can read that as “looks more impressive to potential financial backers” if you want), it plays to modern net user psychology (the first thing many people do when they hear about something is try to type www dot that-thing-I-heard-about dot com), it’s searchable, and it allows you all of the creative flexibility you could hope for. It won’t even cost you twenty bucks, and that can include hosting. The free tools out there mean even the least savvy people can make a decent looking site, and if you want to go the pro route, it’s still a solid and relatively small investment. Once you’ve got your site, it’s one stop marketing heaven. Production notes. Promo pics. Release schedules. For many of you, your content itself. It also happens to be a great place to attract investors from.
Since you’ve got the domain already, you should really take advantage of the email options that go with it. People are much more likely to treat someone professionally when the contact address is my-name at my- production dot com rather than my-name at yahoo dot com. Those free addresses are great, but I know many people who wouldn’t even think of giving money (or even professional courtesy) to someone making the request via hotmail. Having your domain gives you an air of legitimacy; make the most of it.
Of course, that email option only works if you put an address somewhere that people can see it. Canned forms that sign someone up for an announcement list don’t cut it. And even if you use a form that sends a regular message to a regular person, many people would rather send from their email client of choice (especially if the content contains certain types of information, like, say, something financial), and that means showing your address. Remember, you’re promoting yourself and/or your production. Is this really time to be squeamish about contact info?
III. You don’t make use of the IMDB.
I honestly can’t believe that I even have to say this, but as I’ve tried to research some of the stuff I’ve reviewed, I keep running into projects that
1) aren’t listed on the Internet Movie Database at all, or…
2) don’t have listings that are complete and up-to date.
This is the single most popular source of entertainment industry information on the entire planet, people! Everyone, both people “in the business” and people who make up that lovely group called “the audience” (aka “your paycheck”), looks at this site. Not taking full advantage of it is just like saying that you really didn’t want to be noticed by anyone outside of your immediate circle of friends, family, and colleagues anyway. Come on! You and your projects deserve better!
1) Despite the fact that it is produced by one of the savviest, most on-the-ball indie people I know of, there’s a webseries I looked up that is a) listed as a short film, and b) still listed as “completed,” even though it went into release some time ago. On the plus side, at least there’s a poster and a full cast and crew listing.
2) This certainly beats another webseries that is in production, but doesn’t have a page at all. Some of the primary people involved have cast and crew listings for other projects on IMDB, but no headshots and no additional information. Others have nothing at all on IMDB, period.
3) But even that beats yet another webseries that was released some time ago, and which also has absolutely nothing up. They don’t even have the lame excuse of “I was waiting for the release date” to fall back on.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
If you’re an actor or any kind of crew member, you need to make sure that you have an IMDB page and that you max it out. Make sure your credit list is complete. Make sure you’ve got a headshot posted. Make sure there’s a bio you’re comfortable with. Put something in the quote section. Make sure there’s a link to your official website. (And I mean the real one!) If you’ve done interviews or other press that’s online, make sure there are links from your IMDB page, even if they’re already linked from your official one. You can never give yourself too many outlets.
If you’re a producer of anything that’s ever going to be seen outside of your own home or classroom, you need to get your project listed. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a minute long; it counts. As long as it’s reached the stage of being a “go” in a way that goes beyond “wishful thinking,” it counts. Get it up there. Get your poster up there. Write a synopsis that you like. Put up a few stills. Put up a trailer when you make one. Put up your links. Credit your whole cast and crew; people might stumble onto your project by looking up other stuff they’ve been in. (I’ve found a few things that way myself.) And keep your page updated as production progresses; don’t leave it in “pre-production” status a year after your actual release date! This is a marketing tool that can reach literally over a billion people; don’t waste the chance to use it!
Hopefully, everything above made sense. I can say with certainty that all of it is stuff that I look for, and I know that I’m not the only one who does by a longshot. Like I said before, none of the above is meant as an indictment on anyone. It’s just a wake-up call, and one that I hope you find helpful and useful. I also hope that you’ll act on it. Almost everything up there is free to do, and the stuff that isn’t is still pretty cheap. Whether your investment is in time or money, I think you’ll find that the returns will be more than worth it.
If you have any comments, I’d love to hear them.