In Documentaryland, there is rarely ever enough money to make your film. Therefore, to think about investing money into marketing it would be absurd because until you have an excellent film, nobody should or would want to market it. You can’t put the proverbial cart before the horse.
Once we understand this premise that independent films are (relatively) expensive endeavors and that crews are generally underpaid to make them (because they're oftentimes passion projects), why then do film funds and grants frequently require you to answer detailed questions about how you plan to market your film — even when you’re applying for production funding? The answer is simple: THIS MAKES NO SENSE.
If you had enough money to make and market your film, you wouldn’t be applying for film funds and grants. Enough said.
But alas, if you do have to market your film to take it to film festivals, it is expensive. Here’s a breakdown of some costs — none of which most teams will ever be able to pay for without a generous sponsor, philanthropist, non-profit, or or impact producer attached to the project:
$2,500 to apply for film festivals — assuming you apply to 25 and they cost $100 each.
$10,000 for a festival publicist to ensure your film is seen by critics who attend festivals.
$1,000 to $2,000 per film festival for travel, depending on festival location relative to you.
$3,000 to design and print posters, flyers, and other materials.
The costs of creating an impact campaign ranging from a web site to actions that must be taken — that start with getting the festival seats filled.
Alas, you shouldn’t think about marketing your film until it is a film. Your focus as a filmmaker has to be laser- focused on making the best film possible. Sales and marketing is a very important side of the coin, but until your film is made properly, you shouldn’t be thinking about this coin. I’ll explain more on this in future posts.
Then, there’s the Hail Mary commercial option: Yes, if you make a commercially viable film and then sell your film to, say, Netflix, they will happily pay for you to attend a few festivals as it’s good publicity that their publicity teams can support in big ways, e.g. my film AMANDA KNOX launching at TIFF in Toronto in 2016 or Icarcus playing at the 2017 Sheffield International Documentary Festival. But again, this is a BEST CASE SCENARIO and likely won’t happen with most film projects.
I’ll repeat my mantra again and again: MAKE THE BEST FILM POSSIBLE AND THEN YOU CAN FIND THE MONEY TO MARKET IT.