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Marketing and Distribution of a New Film – Final Production Phase

A new movie is too expensive a project without a strong marketing strategy aimed at putting its audience in place, and that is a role that falls to the distributor, along with arrangements for exhibition of the film in theatres. A distributor for a film is brought in as early as the preproduction phase in filmmaking, before the project gets underway.

Film Distributor Input at Pre-production Phase

To develop publicity and audience awareness strategies, the distributor inputs opinion on issues such as the choice of star actors and selection of key visual images that express the concept of the film. For instance, involvement in selecting shots used for making trailers and to strike as prints for campaigns. Publicity strategy begins early, used to tempt investors into the creative project:

  • Rumour creates investor interest
  • Journalistic contacts are exploited
  • Involvement of fans (of the star, director, author or genre) is courted through the release of insider information to fan groups
  • Multi-platform campaigns begin early in production, involving internet sites such as Movie Insider and Rotten Tomatoes.

Iconic Images Market New Films

Distributors are involved in running the advertising campaign, and marketing the film and its star. Trailer campaigns are planned; these will become active later, once production footage becomes available during the filmmaking process. If these are placed within magazines or television discussion programmes, online video venues or celebrity columns, they generate free publicity. These will depend heavily on exploiting:

  1. Signifiers of genre – iconography in posters – the lawman’s badge in Judge Dredd that signifies ‘law and order,’ the blue-faced warrior signifying the fantasy base for Avatar.
  2. Use of stars – intertextual reference to their previous movies which also operate as genre signifiers; for instance, Sylvester Stallone brought with him to Judge Dredd his past roles as Rambo. The battling hero in action-adventure films, which are usually signified by the star, action sequences in trailers and sound-track samples.
  3. Significant unique image – often conveys a sense of the internal universe of the story and characters of the film. This is increasingly used to foreground technical innovation in filmmaking technique. Most recently this would be 3D, whilst often foregrounding a blend of animation and real acting, or computer generated images (CGI).

Technically innovative films may foreground their technical effects rather than a star; both Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland and James Cameron’s 2009 Avatar were led by relatively unknown antipodean actors, leaving the director, story and technically driven visuality to tempt audiences into theatres.

Cinema Release Strategy for a New Film

The distributor is influential in deciding the strategy for the release schedule of a new film. Cinema release strategies can be:

  1. Exclusive – one movie theatre (this is how the premiere used to operate)
  2. Multiple run – platforming a new release in selected cities, maybe 200 screens. Aimed at building up word-of-mouth; often begins with a premiere.
  3. Saturation run – blockbuster productions increasingly aim for this. Heavy promotion across all platforms, radio, press, advertising, and global release almost simultaneously.

Global saturation was the strategy for Avatar, a blockbuster which proved technically challenging and hyper-expensive but delivered the best first week box office receipts of any film. Just as well, considering the extensive challenge at the post-production and editing phase in filmmaking which includes preparing copies for various exhibition technologies; “with the global movement in its current state, movies require traditional film release prints as well as all emerging 2D and 3D digital-cinema formats with great visual effects, meaning the task of creating deliverables is – for the time being – more daunting than before,” Giardina reports.

Building the Cinema Audience in the Twenty-first Century

A distributor does not just secure contracts for exhibition of the film, but builds an audience for it, profiling this audience through research strategies:

  • Age, gender, demographics of place, lifestyle, income
  • Research in the age of the multiplex (roughly since 1996) shows a widening of the audience base, which has brought about creation of a wider range of types of product. This also offers opportunity to maximise audience size by devising a plural campaign rather than a narrowly targeted one.

Advertising the new movie is the most expensive strategy for attracting an audience into theatres. It may take up 25% of the total film revenue, including national TV promotions, online promotion and regular advertising both before and after release.

  • The aim of advertising before release is to deliver biggest box office receipts for week 1 of exhibition, before word-of-mouth or poor reviews can put off people from attending.
  • The aim of advertising after release is to keep cinemas filled and to create audiences for television premiere showing and DVD/video versions in advance.

Multiple platform ability from digital equipment allows use of outtakes removed for time/length reasons to be incorporated onto DVD versions, an extra that serves well in marketing. Along with the ‘how-we-did-it’ feature length programmes utilising film-of-the-filmmaking-process footage in marketing as teasers and tasters.

Filmmakers Use Synergie as a Marketing Strategy

Synergie Strategy – the result of convergence within culture industries, so that various arts and media platforms become under single ownership. Example: the merger of AOL-Time-Warner brought together music, print, online and screen production. The soundtrack is in the charts on radio and internet; teasers and trailers appear on billboards and TV and online; videogames are released and advertised on TV and online; articles offering exclusive images and inside information appear in the conglomerate’s newspapers and magazines.

There are many distribution companies, often listed online in national film industry databases, such as UK, Australasia or Canada film distributors lists, or try IMDB list of film distributors.

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