It’s hard to believe Chris and I are approaching three years working on this site. When this thing started I thought it'd just be a way for me to talk about how much I love The Thing (a whole bunch) or every now and then write up what was playing midnights at the Coolidge on any given weekend. When we started this thing I had no how much indie horror existed. Getting the opportunity to cover the NYC Horror Film Festival a few months into our existence and getting to see films like Maidenhead, Must Love Death and Sweatshop opened our eyes up to a world of filmmaking that we couldn't soak up enough in.
Since that time we've done our best to champion the smaller films as best we can. I think it has served us well and that we've carved out a nice little niche for ourselves. We've gotten to work with some amazing folks these past few years.
One thing that's happened is we're constantly approached to review film we either have a passing familiarity with or have never heard of. It got me thinking about what I look for when I either seek out a film for review or am approached by a filmmaker to take a look at their work for our site. I've come up with brief list of things to consider when promoting your film or seeking out screening opportunities or sites to review your film. Obviously this is just one man's opinion and not gospel truth, but it all boils down to one thing: Follow the Gospel Rule of Common Sense and you'll make out okay.
Create an official site for your film. There’s no doubt Facebook serves as a powerful promotional tool for filmmakers. Easy to create and update, it allows you to reach your potential audience with ease. What it doesn’t do is allow potential reviewers or programming directors to get in contact with the right person quickly, nor does it allow you to stand out amongst the thousands of other small films sharing the platform. While your film’s official site doesn’t have to win any awards there are a few simple things you should adhere to. Have an embedded trailer. Don’t rely on Youtube since the phrase “Backyard Zombie Massacre” may yield many things before your trailer shows up on page three. A concise story synopsis and a cast and crew page are helpful. Most important (to me and other reviewers at least) have a contact page where potential reviewers of festival programmers can reach the person who handles the screeners. Post a page with synopsis of your better reviews. There's a list of sites I follow and trust. Chances are if Marc at Brutal As Hell digs your film then it's going to be up my alley as well. There's only so many hours in a day and I want to spend them watching movies I'm going to love, not the ones that make me want smash my television set with a lead pipe.
Make it easy for reviewers to get in touch with you. This is a corollary to the first point, but important enough to bear repeating. Here's a peek at how I go about finding films for our monthly screening. I try set aside a three to four hour block one Sunday a month to scour reviews, search festival lineups and catch trailers for smaller indie horror films. If something catches my eye, I'll seek out contact info. If it takes me more than one minute to find a point of contact, I'm moving on to the next potential film.
When available, ship Blu Ray over DVD. You want your film t be seen in the best potential light. Nothing beats the level of color clarity, depth of field and attention to detail of Blu Ray. We screened a film last week in Blu that I’d been given on DVD for review purposes. I was able to pick up on so many more visual cues and minor details that the film was elevated from a good film to something spectacular. I understand that Blu Ray is much more expensive to both master and duplicate. Don’t be afraid to ask a potential reviewer what he’ll be watching your movie on. If it’s being viewed on a laptop or a screen smaller than forty inches, DVD will suffice. Don’t be afraid to ask for a time frame for the review, or explain that because of the higher costs, you’ll be including a self addressed envelope and will need your movie back once the review is posted or screening is completed. Last October during Shudderfest we were fortunate enough to show all four features on Blu. Three of the directors explained they’d need the movie back for future screenings and included return postage. We took no offense and were happy to oblige. If a reviewer gives you a hard time about having to send the film back, send him a DVD or pass on sending anything at all.
Grammar and spelling count. In the age of Twitter and texting spelling and grammar often get tossed by the wayside to make room for expediency. It's tough for me to criticize anyone else's misuse of the English language, as anyone that's read more than one of my posts knows I tend to drop words when I get over excited and I've never met a run on sentence that I didn't fall head over heels in love with and want to marry then have a million of its space babies. Treat an email to a potential reviewer like you would your resume. You wouldn't hand a potential employer a ketchup stained document rife with misspellings written in all lower caps. Take the time to craft a simple email that introduces yourself and your film and tell me why you think I'd enjoy it. If I'm struggling to make sense of a short email, my Spider sense is telling me that trying to sit through your ninety minute feature is going to be akin to the shrieking of nails on a chalkboard. Change your delivery settings so a message can't be sent before spellcheck gives it a once over. At least take the time to use capitals correctly. Also, if you have a trailer up for your work, post a link in the email. Don't make anyone hunt around for it.
Promote the hell out of your screenings. Chris and I have run a monthly screening since January of 2010 and it never ceases to amaze me how few directors that have given us permission to screen their movies even make a single mention of when their film is playing. You’d like to think movies are created for an audience, yet we often find ourselves getting zero help from the folks responsible for the film. This shouldn’t be a large commitment on your part time wise. Take five minutes or less a day to do one of the following in rotation: send a tweet, a Facebook post, an email your distribution list or post on forums like Reddit, Dread Central to inform your potential audience. Post the details of the screening in the news and screening sections of your official site. It does you zero good to screen your film to a bunch of empty folding chairs.
Don’t harass reviewers. Most of the people you send your films to run their sites as a hobby out of a love for talking about film in general and horror in specifics. It's going to happen where we fall behind from time to time, and that film you sent four weeks ago has been languishing in out "to watch" list right after plowing through all four seasons of Breaking Bad via Netflix. While it's understandable that you're miffed and feeling a bit hornswoggled at the moment, sending threatening emails every other day demanding a review isn't going to speed things up. If anything, most sites will dig in their heels and put off the review as long as possible.
By the way, if you're running a review site, the reverse applies to you. Don't approach a filmmaker for a free screener then put off watching the movie for six months. Don't tell someone you'll review their movie right away then blow them off. You know your schedule. If someone approaches you to review their film, be a decent person and give them a realistic time frame of when you can get to it. There's no shame in letting them know that you're swamped at the moment and it might be a few weeks or even a month before you can get to their movie. Ask if they're okay with that much of a lag or f they'd rather wait and approach you again later. Don't act all huffy when someone who poured their life savings into their project wants to know when you'll get around to upholding your promise.
Go easy on the watermarking. Nothing pulls someone out of a film than giant block letters screaming PROPERTY OF XYZ ENTERTAINMENT FOR SCREENING PURPOSES ONLY flashing across the screen every five minutes. Piracy is a problem...if you're Joss Whedon or Martin Scorcese or Edgar Wright and people are clamoring for your work. Your little indie film has a very limited appeal to a small niche (at least for the moment) of people that want to see your movie succeed. We're not going to torrent your movie. Of course, if you get a bad vibe then...
Don’t be afraid to say no. At the end of your day it's your sweat, toil and money that went into your work. If you're approached by someone to review your film and something just seems hinky about the whole thing, tell them thanks for the interest, but there just aren't any screeners available right now. If they bitch and moan, screw them. you don't owe anyone a free movie. I read a post from one of my favorite indie directors recently, one we've worked with a few times now and has been receiving fantastic press from site like Ain't It Cool, where he'd received an inquiry to provide a retrospective on his work. When he offered to make himself available for interviews, he was met with, "Well what I was hoping for was you would send me all your movies for free so I could better acquaint myself with them". Basically, someone just wanted free swag. The technical term for this is "Being a shitbag".