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Indie Filmmaking: Your Advertising Budget- $1 Million or $0

When a new movie comes out, whether it is the Mega Tent Pole “Thor” or the low budget independent film “Insidious” – one thing that they have in common is advertising budgets in the millions of dollars. Billboards, bus stops, TV commercials, radio, print, talk shows, web advertising, magazine articles, etc., all magically coordinated so that the weeks leading up to the release, awareness is pretty damn high.

That’s what millions of dollars, and a coordination of publicists, media buyers, and advertising companies looks like.

You’re supposed to put garbage on the streets!

How can you compete with that with your indie film? You can’t.

In the perspective of the global film industry, your film’s budget and advertising is a proverbial drop in the bucket.

Naturally, the more money you spend on your film, the less your chances are for a recoup.

For every $10,000 you spend in advertising – a formidable sum for you and I – you now have to generate 1,000 more sales/profits at $10 per VOD, disc, or download sold, each of which has its own commission structure.

Now, I am not much of a math (or advertising) guy, but spending $10,000 to get 1,000 people to buy something, seems like a drop in the bucket for such a task. (Recently, as an experiment, I spent $100 on Facebook advertising to get something like 9 “Likes” and zero sales. At that rate, to get 1,000 would be, well, YOU do the math!) And we’re not even counting the budget of your film, which was probably in the tens-of-thousands of dollars as well. So we are already talking about a serious chunk of change.

So what do you do? Give up? Of course not!

Spend $0.

That’s right. $0. In the the advertising world, your $10,000 is so close to zero anyways, you might as well keep in your bank account.

Here are a few ideas that cost nothing.

Become your own publicist

Publicists, especially good ones, can charge thousands of dollars a month. And if they’re REALLY good – with an excellent Rolodex (do those even exist anymore?) – you probably can’t get them or afford them. There are loads of so-called publicists on the ‘Net pining for your indie dollars. Why pay them for what you can – and already have been – doing all along? If you don’t know how to write a press release, there are plenty of websites to walk you through it.

One important tip: Take your middle name and the street you grew up on and – voila – instant publicist. My publicist for The Great Intervention is Fred Rainey. He has his own email address and I list my phone number. If someone calls asking for Fred, I know it’s related to the movie.

I’m not saying there is not an art to finding your film’s niche, writing an engaging press release, and shepherding it out to the media, I’m just saying you might as well do it yourself. Most likely, you came up with the idea for your film in the first place, right? Who knows more about it than you? Focus not only on the film, but perhaps the making of the film like I did (surely there are some interesting obstacles you encountered that others can benefit or enjoy learning from).

Need contacts and places to send your press release? The Internet will help you. Set up your Google alerts for key words related to your film, as well as “indie film” “DIY filmmaker” “film festival” “micro budget” etc. In your inbox every day will be a list of websites/articles that deal with these things.

Make the talk show rounds.

Sure, you’re probably not going to get on Jay Leno, or even Conan. But in your network I’m sure there are DOZENS of people that are making blogs and or podcasts. Just look at your Facebook page. Sure, they may not have huge ratings, but it is a good start. Not only can you get some video and-or audio soundbites for your EPK, but it’s good practice in case one of the big shows do indeed come a-knockin’.

Exploit your actors.

Actors are hungry – they are all trying to become famous. And you gave them a part in your movie! Most likely, because of this very fact, you won’t need to “exploit” them – just give them the opportunity to promote the film. Work with them to set up screenings and make sure they are available for interviews. They may have friends that have podcasts/blogs too, so make sure they get a copy of the press release or EPK for their own use. Find out if their backstory can be of use in the publicity of the movie.

Return to your hometown.

Everybody has a group of people they grew up with, and in this age of Facebook, the odds are good that you are in contact with them. Make an event and show your movie! The local paper likes nothing better than a story like “Local Filmmaker Returns Home to Screen Indie Movie.” Perhaps you can coordinate with an alumni group or others to donate a portion of the proceeds to a local charity.

Pray for virility.

Nobody knows how or why things go viral – that’s the wonder of the Internet. Rebecca Black hoped she would become famous, but no reasonable amount of marketing could have generated A HUNDRED AND TWENTY ONE MILLION VIEWS on YouTube.

This is where the playing field is “leveled” between you and the blockbuster. Create short clips of your movies – not just a preview, perhaps, but maybe a controversial/hilarious scene. Keep throwing them out there and see what works. You don’t have access to Neilson Ratings or expensive marketing analysts, but you DO have access to your YouTube view count as well as some other interesting insights, including users’ attention span across your video! Find other video sites to post it to, and use keywords related to your topic.

And then pray something hits Numa Numa land.

So there you go. I’m not saying doing this is better than hiring a publicist or spending a gazillion dollars on billboards. But these are some things you can do own your own without maxing the credit cards that may give you some satisfactory results. At least you tried.


Stephen Moramarco is a writer, actor, director and musician. He has been DIY-ing indie projects for over 20 years. His self-released indie CD Hill of Beans was a top-ten hit on college radio and the song “Satan, Lend Me a Dollar” was featured on Showtime’s Weeds. His latest project is his indie film debut, entitled“The Great Intervention”, which he made for $5000. He will be sharing his own insights and opinions on the current DIY revolution taking over… well, just about everything!

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