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Film Marketing: How To (And Not To) Approach Film Websites

Hand inserting a DVD into a player

So, you’ve made your independent movie, maybe you’ve screened at a couple of festivals, maybe you haven’t, but … still nobody is writing about your film online. It’s tough trying to get press to write about your indie or underground film, particularly getting a well thought-out review — whether it’s a positive review or a negative one.

There are two barriers to getting your film reviewed by the online press. One, of course is time. There are more movies produced out there that no one person can possibly watch all of them themselves. Personally, I can tell you that if I agreed to review every movie I was asked to review, my poor apartment couldn’t even begin to hold all of those discs. Even if all those films were online, I still couldn’t get to them, particularly when I’m working full time in addition to producing the Underground Film Journal.

So, that leads to the second barrier: Every film website has developed their own filtering mechanism that keeps its editors and writers sane. But, also, film websites function similarly to film festivals. The editors of film websites have a definite vision of what types of films that site is going to cover that match the image of the website.

Storming the Barricades (Politely)

But, filmmakers must still try to storm those barricades. This is no time to be shy. However, it’s also not a time to be rude, overly pushy or oblique.

Clearly, the first thing you want to check is whether or not a film website is open to accepting reviews. Sometimes us editor types like to bury our submission policies as one of our filtering mechanisms. But, dig around, look for contact forms and read carefully what type of material a website accepts. Some interpretation and research skills might be needed on your part.

It’s a good idea to become familiar with the kinds of movies a film website reviews, i.e. actually read a couple reviews on the site to see what types of films they prefer reviewing. Sometimes it’s as easy as realizing that a horror movie site isn’t going to be interested in your romantic comedy. But, a lot of other times, the nuances are more difficult to figure out. Is a site amenable to artsy stuff, dirty humor, straight-up action, lo-fi filmmaking, lots of special effects, etc.?

Although, you might think, why bother doing research? Sending out an email is free, who cares if my film isn’t a good fit and it gets ignored? That is true, but, at the same time, you don’t really want to irritate a website editor by sending out frivolous emails. (We’re a testy bunch.) You don’t want to create a bad name for yourself, particularly if your next film is up a website’s alley, but you’ve aggravated the editor with bad behavior in the past. (We also have memories like elephants.)

Yes, Please Tell Me What Your Film Is About

Ok, you’ve determined that a web editor might be interested in your film, so you go ahead and fill out the appropriate contact form or compose an email. What do you say?

First, be as succinct as possible without being oblique. Don’t just say something like, “How do I go about getting a review of my film?” without telling the editor what your film is about. I particularly get this one all the time for some reason. How else do you think you get your film reviewed? You send a DVD, the editor maybe watches it and maybe you get a review.

(Although, it’s also not bad form if a web editor is writing about a film festival your film is screening at to ask them to review your particular film at that festival.)

Just please say what your film is about and why you think the editor of, or even the readers of, that particular website you are writing to will be interested in it. Don’t be afraid to describe the plot and the style the film is in. So, don’t think you will entice an editor into watching your film if you keep the plot vague and that the reader of your pitch will be so enchanted by your mystery he’ll just have to ask to watch it.

“Two hit men go on the lam and encounter something magical” is not a pitch. That’s not a real pitch I’ve ever received, but it’s close to some plot synopses I’ve read over the years. You have to be concrete without being overly wordy. “Two hit men go on the lam after killing an innocent woman and find the entrance to Hell” is concrete and interesting. Well, to me anyway. I’d potentially review that film.

Personal and Personable

I suppose this varies per web editor, but I think it’s a good idea to personalize your pitch email. Excessive buttering up of a web editor — “You have the best film website ever!” — will be seen right through for what it is. But, as I’ve been getting at, it’s not a bad idea to write why you’re specifically pitching your film to this specific website, and one of the reasons might be just because you like that particular site.

Maybe it was just me, but I used to get fairly annoyed by filmmakers or PR people just cutting and pasting a press release into my contact form. That doesn’t bug me so much the more press releases I get these days. I always wanted to hear a filmmaker’s passion about their film in their pitch.

That’s one of the things that I think makes the underground and indie film world special, that it’s more individualized than the Hollywood business machine. If you want to be a part of that machine, that’s fine, but just understand how that’s coming across.

A mailbox with a red handle

After You’ve Sent the DVD

If you’re lucky enough that a web editor says to send your film in, be sure to include a little note with the DVD, just a little thank you and maybe a little bit about your email conversation to jog the reviewer’s mind exactly what he’s agreed to watch.

Most likely your note will go right in the trash and your DVD squished into a large viewing pile, but it’s always a good idea to be polite. Personally, I keep the notes around with the DVDs to jog my memory weeks down the line when I finally get to watching it.

Also, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to send a follow up email asking if the web reviewer received the DVD. That’s not being pushy. Plus, there are occasions I remember when I didn’t get a DVD I agreed to review, never heard from the filmmaker again and I don’t know what ever happened. Did the DVD get lost? Did the filmmaker lose interest or forget? I don’t know.

And it might be awhile before a reviewer can or wants to get to a film. It’s almost like a job interview. You have to know what the right mix of politeness and “Hey, what the hell?” is. There’s probably no easy answer for that one.


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