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Film Marketing Tip: Great Cast Lists

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 3, 2011

Screengrab of a cast list on IMDB

As a professional writer about film, there’s one thing that drives me nuts more than anything else: The inability to find a proper cast list for a film I’m writing about. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! And this isn’t just about my own personal comfort. It just makes good sense for you, as a filmmaker, to have a great cast list as a proper promotional tool.

Here’s a good overall promotional tip to keep in mind: Your audience, no matter how much they love your movie, will never be as emotionally invested in it as you are. What I mean by that is even if I think your film is a masterpiece particularly because I love all the characters in it doesn’t mean I’ll remember any of their names five seconds after I’ve watched it.

Also, you know how when you read reviews of films in big time media outlets, like the New York Times or Entertainment Weekly or USA Today, how the reviewer knows all the character names, crew members, plot points, locations and other details just perfectly? You know how they do that? They cheat! When those critics go to press screenings, they get detailed handouts from PR flacks recapping all that info, so they can easily flip through to find whatever information they need.

Ok, that’s not really “cheating.” It’s good business sense on the film distributor’s part. Even if a film is going to get a bad review, the distributor is actually going to want accurate information about the film contained in that review. Any press is good press — as long as people’s names are spelled correctly.

“So what,” you might say, “the reviewer can just go look that info up on the IMDB page for the film that I created.” True, but remember that part where I said I might not remember your characters’ names? Frequently, yes I do need to go to IMDB to find out actor names, but I don’t know who I’m looking for if I don’t remember a key piece of info or if there’s no photo of your actors to jog my poor memory. Plus, on certain occasions, I go to IMDB and I have to wade through 30 names of extras and cameos to try to find the one name I want. And, usually, I can’t distinguish who’s who.

Think about it: You’ve either paid someone or took the time yourself to create a promotional website for your film. So, why not make sure you have as much accurate info on that site for people who want to help you promote your film?

Ideally, your film’s website should have a great, detailed cast list that somewhat mimics the way IMDB lays out their cast lists: Actor names listed in order of their importance in the film alongside their character names and, preferably, a little, or big, picture of those actors in character so that they’re instantly recognizable.

It also makes sense to put a detailed cast list on your website to help visitors find your site in the first place. People searching the web for your actors’ names aren’t going to visit your website if you don’t bother putting on there that they’re in your film! Also, most likely, your actors are fairly unknown quantities, but don’t you want all their friends and family members coming to your website to check out their info so that you end up looking like a big-shot, professional filmmaker?

And, even if you don’t have a website, you probably have at least a Facebook page for your film. And, if you don’t: Go make one! But what you can do on your Facebook page is add a Note page as a cast list, or create a photo gallery that includes a headshot of each actor, making sure each photo is properly labeled with both their real and character names. Heck, even if you have a cast list on another website, it wouldn’t hurt to do this on Facebook anyway!

Also, it won’t hurt to make a PDF of your cast list and all other PR materials you may have. Put that on your website for downloading, or upload/create it on Google Docs, make the file public and give that link out.

There’s lots of ways to make sure your proper cast lists fall into the right hands. Even if you don’t follow all the above advice, just doing the minimum is more than likely better than doing nothing at all.

P.S.: A follow-up tip: Make sure your promotional photos are properly labeled somewhere identifying who’s in the picture and from what scene it’s taking place, e.g. Harry (John Doe) punches Smitty (Jack Somebody) in the face in the bar.