Think Globally, Act Locally: Film Marketing Case Study

Film Trooper

How would you market a feature film that was made for $500 with no crew?  Yes, a feature film, not a short, but a feature film … that was made for only $500 with no crew.  How is this possible?

You can check out the details over at this blog post:  How I Made a Feature Film For $500 With No Crew

Now that the feature film is completed and I did a brilliant job of NOT building an audience for it ahead of time, what can I do?

I probably didn’t build an audience, because I honestly didn’t think I could pull it off.  On top of that, I knew that I made a movie that never really had a niche audience in mind for it.



These two steps are supposedly essential at setting up your film for the greatest chance of success.  They are:

  • Identify a niche audience that is willing to pay for your film product that will successfully deliver that genre.
  • Build an audience for your film product during the initial stages of pre-production.  You need to build awareness and interest for your film.

I, in all my wisdom, did none of those things.


I finished the film, knew I wasn’t going to submit it to film festivals, but instead I would take it online to sell it to the market right away.

Why not submit to film festivals?  Well, I wrote a blog post about that too.  Here’s that article:  Stop! Don’t Take Your Film To A Festival

I knew that this little film had no chance at going to Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, Tribeca, or SXSW.  Maybe it could get into a few smaller festivals and I could use those laurel leaves to slap on my DVD a year later, but why not save the multiple $50 entry fees and just set up a local screening?



It was important to me not to make this local event a vanity event.  Meaning, I didn’t want to waste money just trying to get friends and family to come and stroke my ego … that would be gross.  No.  I really wanted to approach this event as an opportunity to apply some marketing strategies to generate enough interest in the film and event that some of the local community would be willing to pay to attend.

Entering film festivals I would be throwing my money away.  Sure, it can be used for marketing and promotional purposes, but why not save the money and use the funds for other business efforts.  Business efforts that could actually make you a profit.

Marketer, Charlie Green is credited as saying , “Marketing in the near future will be like sex … only the losers will pay for it.”

So, why pay for the off chance that some no name festival will grant the usage of their laurel leaves for my film?  How many terrible independent films have you’ve seen that have several laurel leaves plastered all over their DVD cover?  What value do they have if it does not come from a source of authority?



Book publishers usually require that their authors utilize testimonials from other prominent writers to give short reviews to help legitimize the book.  Why not take the same approach for a film?

In the whole spirit of making a feature film for $500 with no crew, I made a film with the available resources in front of me.  This is resource based filmmaking.  Not sure what this is, then please listen to filmmaker Christopher J. Boghosian from his interview over at Film Courage:

Resource based filmmaking.  I wanted to approach the marketing effort in the same manner.



I looked at the resources in front of me and saw that I actually had some friends who were prominent professionals in the film industry.  I asked these friends to watch an early screening of my film and to send me a quick blurb if they felt it deserved one.

Here are the blurbs:

“A short, sweet, thoughtful indie.  Engaging and humorous.”  Bryce Fortner, Cinematographer “Portlandia”.

“A great example of no-budget filmmaking.”  Randall Jahnson, screenwriter of “The Doors” and “The Mask of Zorro”.

With these blurbs in hand, it cost me nothing, and I had some authoritative testimonials that serve the same purpose as getting a few laurel leaves slapped on my poster or DVD cover.



In the spirit of being a Film Trooper, taking the teachings of entrepreneurs and combining that with independent filmmaking, I followed the advice of some successful entrepreneurs who recommended that anyone starting out should throw a networking event. (Damn that was a run-on sentence, sorry)

The purpose of throwing a networking event, is to become an authority of connecting people together.  This is an extremely valuable asset that your community can benefit from … and benefits are the key to good marketing.

Additionally, at the end of the day, who really cares about my film?  No one.  Not even my own family.  I had to market and beg them to come.

But people would care a little more if they were invited to a networking event … and a networking event that included an awards show.  So why not bring some more awareness to the Film Trooper website by announcing the 1st ever Suck-Up Awards?  You can check out the full event graphic at this link:  1st Annual Film Trooper Suck-Up Awards

Portland doesn’t take itself too seriously, so why should this awards show be any different.  When we think of a networking event, what are we really doing other than sucking-up to someone who is more talented or influential than ourselves.  So let the sucking begin …

I had the pleasure of working with some talented filmmakers in the local Portland area and thought it would be cool to bring them all together so I could give them an award for your their amazing work.  Since this was the 1st awards show I would be throwing, I knew a trophy or statuette wouldn’t mean much … so, I handed these filmmakers a mug, with the graphic imprinted on it as follows:


It becomes a useful gift.  A gift that they would remember forever as long as the mug didn’t get smashed into pieces after a domestic dispute, you know?  “You know what honey?  You can suck it up!”  SMASH!!!  You get the idea.



Although, I had reached out through Google+ and Twitter,  the Portland indie film community was dominated by Facebook.

I had joined several local independent film groups within Facebook.  I spent some time sharing past blog posts in these groups and got some good responses.  Since, I had provided some value to these groups, I felt I had established a tiny bit of good will and was ready to unleash my advertising campaign to my event.

This marketing plan was simple enough.  I started by engaging the community with a simple question:  “What local theater is best for screening a movie premiere?”

As you can imagine, I received a ton of input.  I decided on a theater, booked a date and time, and set the whole thing in motion.  Now it was “go” time!



One of the other great entrepreneurial tips is set deadlines for yourself.  This makes your goals real, and you’d be amazed what you can accomplished when you are faced with a “real” deadline.

There was no turning back now.  I had rented the theater for a 2 hour block at $237.  I was allowed to charge anything I wanted at the door to recoup the costs.  Since I wasn’t going to be running credit cards, I made it cash only at an even $5 at the door.

I would need to sell about 48 tickets at $5 to cover the cost of the theater.

Again, since this was not intended to be a vanity showing, where I was just paying for the theater to see my movie up on the big screen for a few family and friends, but rather this was a conscious effort to make a profit and take the first steps at recouping the cost for my lil’ $500 film.



One of the great marketing techniques Hollywood does with their film products, is that they create interest for their films usually 2 weeks out from the opening box office weekend.  The process of repetitiveness is imperative in keeping a product top of mind for customers to decide whether or not they’ll take action.

So, how can you create an ongoing awareness for you film through Facebook without ever having to pay for anything?  Remember, the whole focus was to get the local film community to come to the live event.

Since, I had already invited some fellow filmmakers to the event in order suck-up to them with an award, I was banking on some of them bringing at least one of their friends to come along and pay the $5.  I’ve been invited to several event happenings on Facebook before, but honestly, attention span on Facebook lasts for about 5 minutes at a time.  How do you capture the interest of these passer-byes on Facebook?

Well, I created some interesting graphics that would brand my movie and remind the community that this shit is real and that they’d better not miss out on it.



I utilize these simple graphics and posted them on the Facebook groups daily, showing off this “countdown” strategy.  Again, this is a technique used by successful entrepreneurs when they are holding an event like a webinar.  They provide a visual countdown that the event is coming.

I had to figure out a way to do this for my event.  Here are the sample graphics that were used to create a sense of an exciting countdown.

The Cube Countdown 05

Why visuals?  We know that people respond much better to either video posts or graphics in a post than just simple text.

Now, look at what you can create for little to no money?  A simple countdown awareness campaign that you can share daily on the plethora of Facebook groups you belong to in order to reach a specific community that has shared interest with you and perhaps with your film.

** A word to the wise about Facebook.  For some reason, and no matter how much I searched for it, I could not stop the posts I made on these private groups from showing up on my timeline.  So, what happened was that these graphic posts about the event coming in a few days, would be show up as repeated posts for all my friends who followed me.  From their perspective it looked like a I was a big spammer.  I didn’t realize this was happening.  You can’t see how it looks like on your friend’s news feed in your own timeline.  Facebook … it’s a necessary evil.  Errgghh! **

By the time it was pointed out to me, the train had already left the station and I was committed to see this marketing campaign all the way through, even if I did annoy some people.

Speaking of that, that’s okay, as you want to weed out the people who wouldn’t be fans to begin with.  The process actually thinned out the casual looky-loo and only brought in the “real” fans.



The event comes and I made sure of a few things:

  • Was the theater small enough that with a few people showing up, it would still feel packed?  I had thrown an event once where the theater had too many seats, and even though we had a good turn out, the space felt empty.  I’d rather have a smaller venue where it’s almost packed to make it feel more alive.
  • Was there a convenient bar close by in walking distance that everyone could walk to without a problem?  I had attended a screening once, where everyone had to walk several blocks just to get to the after party.  The goal is to make the event as easy and enjoyable for your guests as possible.
  • Is there sufficient parking near the theater?  Some of you might think, wait, it’s a theater, of course there’s parking.  But up here in Portland, some of these art house theaters are in the city where parking is sparse.  I had attended a film festival in town and the parking was a pain in the ass.  Again, I learned from what bugged me about going to other people’s events, that I was fully committed to making it as easy and enjoyable to all the guests who decided to attend.



The night of the event, I made sure that I had a photographer and videographer, as I needed to capture as much footage as possible in order to build future marketing material.

Since the title of my film is, “THE CUBE”, I forced guests to take a picture with the actual CUBE in order to get them in the right mindset.  It didn’t hurt that I implored child labor as my staff.  My 11 year old daughter and her friends, in which some of them were in the film, worked the box office collecting the $5 cash and charmed the guests in taking pictures with THE CUBE.

The one area that I knew would be the most important was to record the reactions from the audience as they came out of the movie.  I enlisted an actress friend of mine to use her charm to ask the exiting audience 2 simple questions:

1. What did you like about the movie THE CUBE?

2. What would you do if a red cube arrived at your door?  (I have to give credit to my actress friend for coming up with this one.)

You’ve probably seen this before from Hollywood movies, when they intercut an audience reaction coming out of a private screening of the movie prior to it being released.  The concept and strategy of social proof is a valid way of sharing the excitement and enthusiasm for the film or any product for that matter.



I’ve always loved how Kevin Smith would bash on his own work before anyone else could.  The filmmaking community is very cynical.  It takes a lot to impress this vast community.  There are a lot of haters for sure.

I think staying humbled is a good thing too.  I try to be honest with myself and my work.  I saw this little film and thought, who really wants to see this thing.  I’m proud of it, but I’m not under any delusion that it’s the next great thing in cinema.  So I self deprecate the effort because it’s the right thing to do …

Or, is it a marketing strategy that simply “Under Promises and Over Delivers”?  That’s the hope anyway.  Here are some of the reactions from the night that I was able to put together.  The cool thing is that half the people interviewed I had no idea who they were … cool, right?



In the end, by applying all the different marketing and entrepreneurial techniques to a local film premiere … I was able to make a profit:



Theater Rental: $237

Poster Print: $20

Costs of Mugs: $50

Total expense: $307

Box Office Gross:  $725

Total Net Profit:  $418


This might be laughable, but for a film that only cost $500 to make, I nearly made all my money back in one theater showing.

The film is online for rental or purchase through Vimeo On Demand.  I’ve earned $60 in one week from downloads and rentals.  I’m nearly half way to my original production budget.  Haha!

The goal is to take these marketing materials and continue to push interest online to a global audience.  I acted locally to earn a profit and acquire new marketing media in order to expand to a larger network online.



Fast, Cheap, or Good … pick two.  I knew that my movie was going to be cheap and I knew I would have very little money to spend on marketing, so in order for my efforts to be “good”, I couldn’t plan on things being “fast”.

I’m in this for the long haul.  Indie film has to be the Tortoise and NOT the Hare.  Hollywood is the Hare, they can afford to go fast.

We indie filmmakers have to make our products cheap and go slow in order for it to be good.

If you stuck around this long to read the entire post, you deserve a medal.  I do hope that this article provides some value to your project or provide some sort of inspiration to do something similar … or to do something even better!

Lastly, please support true indie film and watch THE CUBE today!




Scott McMahon is a Fellow Film Trooper at Film Trooper, a website for helping filmmakers attain filmmaking freedom. Scott recently made a feature film for $500 with no crew called, The Cube. Want to know what equipment was used to make that film? Grab a FREE gift at