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March 2 at 8:06am

Make Your Microbudget Film An Event: The Waiting List

By Ted Hope

Today’s guest post is from Mike Vogel.

I recently premiered my first microbudget feature The Waiting List in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I’ve read a lot of blogs and tweets about how important it is to turn your screening into an event. There are many well thought-out reasons for this, but the only true reason is that no one wants to see your crappy indie film. Or my crappy indie film. I’m not saying yours–or mine–is actually a crappy film, but since it didn’t get into Sundance and doesn’t have any recognizable stars from Entertainment Weekly, it must be plotless, poorly acted and guaranteed to be boring. Like a foreign movie or something. I assume that’s the mindset of 95% of the people I’m trying to convince to watch my movie–let alone pay to watch it. So the amazing opportunity to see my movie at an out-of-the-way theater on a weekday evening has got to be pretty compelling. Here are a few small things I did to make it interesting for someone who has never heard of me or my movie.
1. “I want to promote your thing at my screening”

I realized quickly that many of the people who might consider attending my premiere (aside from friends, relatives and neighbors) were people who support the local creative scene. And most of those people probably have their own creative thing going on as well. I created a form on my website where anyone could upload a 1024 x 768 image that I would show on-screen before the movie for free. Instead of shilling soda or a wireless provider, I would promote “your thing.” I’ve posted all of the slides as a PDF here or a webpage here. The free creative promotions included everything from local blogs, podcasts, movies, telepathic pet communicators and an adult toy store. A good portion of them also came to the screening so I got to meet them in the real world instead of just being Facebook friends or Twitter followers.
2. Q&A

Okay, I have to admit I’m in the camp of people who think Q&A sessions walk a fine line between informative, inspirational talks and self-congratulatory, narcissistic blab-a-thons. But I know if I were attending a screening by a local director with a local cast, I would expect to see them on stage awkwardly answering questions. As an audience member, there’s always that incentive that someday the director or the actors will be famous and you can brag about how you saw them at a Q&A once. That would be the incentive for me, at least. I was fortunate enough to have three actors from the film (Amanda Englund, Audrey Walker and Mercedes Rose) join me for the Q&A.
3. Speed Raffle

Yeah, a raffle. Everyone got a raffle ticket when they walked in the door. Prizes included gift certificates to Voodoo Doughnuts (their maple bacon donut was featured in the movie), DVD copies of The Waiting List, and–since it’s an honest movie about parenting–an adult “bath toy.” I’m not usually the biggest fan of raffles but when I attended the Filmed By Bike festival last year, their speed raffle won me over and it was a huge crowd-pleaser.

I created a slide that played before the screening that said “Raffle! Win stuff!! Or watch other people win stuff!!!” The key here was giving away prizes that tied into the movie’s theme. So if a Q&A with the director and cast wasn’t incentive enough to stick around after the movie, you were holding a ticket in your hand that gave you a chance to win stuff.

4. Walk-in Music

So you’re sitting in the theater waiting for movie to start. You’re watching slides on the big screen featuring local creative projects: movies, blogs, webisodes, podcasts, pet psychics, sex toy shops. What else do you need? Music! My movie appeals to disillusioned parents, so naturally I thought of setting the mood with children’s music. A good mix of Mother Goose Rocks (where Eminem and No Doubt soundalikes re-interpret traditional children’s songs), nostalgic PBS themes (like 3-2-1 Contact and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood), and hilarious songs with parenting themes, including one I found on YouTube called Pregnant Women are Smug.

5. Online-ify the Location

It’s a physical event, but it’s obvious from going to movies that everyone’s screwing around on their phones before the movie starts. I wanted to take advantage of this idle mobile time. In addition to promoting other people’s things on slides, I snuck in a few of my own. “Check into the theater on Foursquare to see who else is at the movie (or just looking around you the old-fashioned way).” “Include our official hashtag #TWLPDX with any tweets or twitpics.”

And to remind people earlier in the week that my movie was playing for one night only, I went to the well of overused internet memes and posted “Hitler Finds Out The Waiting List only Plays One Night” to Twitter and Facebook, which had 300+ views prior to the show. I made this a video response to a new trailer for my movie on YouTube so anyone who saw the Hitler spoof could easily click through to the movie’s trailer. All of this was in addition to the mandatory blog post, Facebook Event invite, Google Calendar invite and lots of tweets.

These are just a few of the things I did to give people a reason to show up and watch my movie in a theater. Watching a movie in a theater gives a sense of community that plopping down in front of a 67″ LCD in your man-cave simply does not. I’m interested to hear things other microbudget filmmakers have done to turn their screenings into events.

Mike Vogel is a writer-director based in Portland, Oregon.  His first movie The Waiting List, is a foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed, back-stabbing comedy about preschool enrollment, and is now available on DVD from IndieFlix.  He is currently at work on the second part of a Domestic Trilogy, a comedy about marriage called Did You Kiss Anyone? http://www.mikevogel.com

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  1. Ana / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    Youza! Very nice. The meme idea – awesome.

    I’d add some sort of trailer exchange with other indie filmmaker(s): I’ll play your trailer on my screening/premiere if you play mine on yours. Of course the films should relate in some way (and not necessarily topic, but style, atmosphere?)…

    Everybody loves trailers, they are the best way to find out about films (if they are well done). I wish there was a last.fm-like ‘if you like this trailer you might also like this one’ service. mmm.

  2. Rob Imbs / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    I just finished producing an indie film two weeks ago, and I really think your approach is correct. People aren’t excited to see indie films, and I think you have to be thankful that they came out to support you, and just try to make it a fun night for everyone involved. Congratulations on the premiere BTW, I think your approach to premiering an indie film is respectful and appropriate!

  3. Rob Imbs / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    Oh and here’s a link to the film – http://vimeo.com/8643926

  4. Jason Gilmore / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    Thanks so much for that piece Mike. The music and “promote your thing” ideas were nice. Things that seem simple, except nobody thinks about them. How many people came to the premiere? I’m curious.

  5. mike vogel / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

    @ Ana – I considered doing trailers too but my main concern was time. I knew I’d get a lot of trailers and would only be able to choose 2 or 3. With the slides, everyone who submitted one got on screen. I love your idea for a Last.fm for indie movie trailers! Who can make that happen?!

    @ Rob – Thanks, I totally agree about being respectful to the audience. They’ve got better things to do so it helps to go out of your way to make it worth their while. And most of all, make it fun.

    @ Jason – Based on raffle tickets (which included guest list and tickets sold) we had a little over 150. It was more than I expected, especially since there were two small film festivals happening in town that week. We had no traditional media coverage, but lots of bloggage, tweets and status updates.

  6. Ana / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    I imagine that is a worry. For a longer campaign perhaps it could be a matter of choosing one or two films to cooperate with in a longer run. All of course depends on the project and circumstances.

    funnily enough there is a similar to last.fm system called libre.fm which is open sourced. But hosting so many videos… lot’s of money, which for now probably better go towards making the films :)

  7. James / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    Pretty helpful ideas, thanks a lot

  8. Dennis Peters / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    Mike these are great ideas especially cross promoting with other creatives/brands to add incentive not only for attendance but word of mouth about your film. This might be a good paradigm for local filmmakers. We all tend to think about the big promotions but sometimes it’s just working smart and thinking local that makes the difference. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Christopher / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    Wow, what an incredibly helpful post. Thanks so much for sharing. I’m working on my first feature, so this is extremely timely for me….

  10. Joshua Brandon / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    Thanks for the helpful ways to get visible Mike, nice to know other people are wondering about this too – I imagine you did similar things for other parts of the film process as well? Like funding and so on?

    You mention lots of tweets, but who is following you, and how did you ask a certain target audience to follow you, and how did you identify that target?

    Lots of people start with their friends, and some people insist on finding the right people who you don’t already know – what was your take?

    I’m actually applying your ideas to my Kickstarter funding process for my feature film “Mermaid”: http://j.mp/mermaidkick

  11. mike vogel / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    @ dennis – you’re right about keeping it local. For microbudget filmmakers, it’s great to have connections and support in your local community. I’ve had people I’ve never met help coordinate locations because they’ve read my blog or tweets or watched preproduction webisodes.

    @ christopher – thanks, congrats on your feature. good luck!

    @ joshua – For The Waiting List, we had a blog & Flickr stream during production, but not much else. I’m working on my second feature and we’ve added a crowdfunding webseries and Facebook fan page.

    I’d say most of my Twitter followers are people in Portland, Oregon where I live. And spambots.

  12. Tyler Kongslie / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    Great stuff here! Thanks for sharing your mix of approaches. I’m going to check out more of your work.

  13. Miles Maker / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    Good stuff!
    I was born in Portland!!

    I can now endearingly refer to the City of Roses as the birthplace of innovative screening events as well as myself…

    Best wishes!

    [Miles Maker is a story author, motion picture auteur and independent distributor whose dynamic media ventures encompass mobile, social and real-time megatrends @milesmaker on Twitter]

  14. Andrew Wahlquist / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    These are all excellent ideas, and easy and not expensive… really great post, thank you for taking the time.

  15. Michael in Cannes / Mar 2 at 8:06am

    The glut of indie production is not necessarily a good thing for the average cinema-goer, who is bombarded with often feel-alike productions. Bravo for the smart and friendly promo ideas. Like the best ideas, it really is an excellent principle to tie the promo ideas to the theme of th estory. You do want people to remember the actual theme, plus it can create a mini-community (for want of a better word) around the release. I would have added parenting/family magazines into the mix if any are active locally.

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