an open letter to indy/low-budget filmmakers

Dear filmmakers,
I can’t wait to see your films at SXSW film festival this year … or at another film festival/special screening/event. I know you’ve worked hard to get your film just the way you want it. Now I’m asking you to do something else if you haven’t already.
I write about movies for Cinematical. Maybe yours is one of three films I’ll see in a single day of a film festival. Or maybe it’s one of the films screening in a couple of weeks at a local theater and I’d like to include it in my weekly News from Slackerwood listing.
Only … I search the Web and I can’t find the information I need on your movie. You don’t have a listing on IMDb, or maybe it’s a bare-bones listing that includes only the director’s name. I search Google and can’t find a Web site for the film. I finally find your Web site and it is a single page that includes no stills and no information about the cast and crew. It’s frustrating and unhelpful to me, and a missed opportunity for extra publicity for your film.

SXSW is less than six weeks away. If you’ve been accepted into the film festival, now is the time to get a Web site going … not in six weeks. Film bloggers and reporters may want to include info about your film in a preview of festival offerings, and the official list of feature films for SXSW this year will be released on Monday. If you’re smart, you’ll have a Web site up and running by then, and an up-to-date, complete listing on IMDb.
Your Web site should include a nice summary of the plot that I can paraphrase for a preview article (and that may convince me to see your film and not someone else’s); a cast list that includes character names so I can figure out after I see the film who played which role (if you have cast photos you get extra-special bonus points); info on how to get in touch with the filmmakers, in case I want to request an interview; and perhaps most important to me and to you, still photos from the film (preferably not Flash-embedded) that I can copy to use in my articles and reviews.
I’m not going to have a lot of time to hunt down photos during SXSW. My plan is to figure out which movies I might see ahead of time, and maybe a week before the festival, start hunting for images from those films on the Web. That’s how I’ll pick the big photos that end up at the top of the Cinematical articles: if they’re easy for me to find and if I can crop them to meet Cinematical’s size requirements.
Ideally, you should have links to different sizes of still photos on your site, both portrait and landscape (wide and tall). Best of all, include links to hi-res photos that print publications can use. If the photos are easy to find and use, you stand a better chance of getting more publicity.
Look at this short article I wrote for Cinematical last week about SXSW premieres. The photo is from V for Vendetta, not from one of the smaller independent films. That’s because of all the movies listed in the article, the only one that had stills available on Google Images was V for Vendetta. Cinematical had posted other images from that movie recently and I hoped to find a photo from one of the other films online, but could not.
I searched IMDb for every movie referenced in that article so I could link to the film listing. If I couldn’t find an IMDb listing, I ran a quick Google search on the title. Notice that some of the movies referenced in the article are not linked to anything, because I couldn’t find any info on those particular films.
I don’t think a movie site needs to be a Flash-y trendy Web extravaganza. I love the site for Dear Pillow but you don’t need anything nearly that fancy. You need a few simple pages that provide the basic information I listed above, which are easy to read in any browser. If you’re no good at HTML, you should be able to find an inexpensive Web designer who needs the work to add to his/her portfolio. Make sure the text on the site is able to be indexed easily by search engines such as Google.
A first-rate example of a model Web site for a low-budget film is for jumping off bridges, a movie directed by Austinite Kat Candler that will premiere at SXSW this year. SXSW hasn’t announced this news yet, and the movie was left off the Austin Chronicle advance preview list, but I found out about the premiere from the film’s Web site. So I included it in this week’s News from Slackerwood.
Take a minute to browse through the jumping off bridges site. It’s easy to navigate, and all the information a potential viewer or film critic might want is easy to find. The site includes a press kit PDF, a list of credits, a summary of the story … even iTunes links to music from the movie. The still photos are within the PDF and I’m not sure how to extract them so I can use them in Cinematical articles, but that’s my only complaint about an otherwise excellent film site. (I could always zoom them to the size I want and take a screenshot.)
Those little postcards that you give out in mass quantities at film festivals are nice, but they don’t do much for me personally … unless they have the URL of your Web site on them somewhere. Then I’ll keep the postcard and if I write about the movie, I know instantly where to find more information.
So if you have a film screening at SXSW or some other film festival this year, please seriously consider finding the money for a Web site for the film, and get it live and running as soon as possible. Upload some still photos and provide clear information on the film. Try not to crash my browser. I’ll be grateful for the easily accessible information, and you stand a much better chance of getting good publicity.

4 thoughts on “an open letter to indy/low-budget filmmakers”

  1. Hey Jette – this is Mike Curtis of HD For Indies, my friend sent me a link to this so I just posted a link and article about it on HD For Indies. Drop me a line, let’s catch up.

  2. Just came across this while browsing. Great article, very informative.
    Thanks and all the best.

  3. Hey Jette — just came across this on Withoutabox — very informative and great article. Sorry my film wasn’t at SXSW, but it is at ReelHeART and Long Island upcoming. And I do have a website for my film.

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