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Gureilla Marketing for Indie Films

Indie filmmakers turn to innovative promotional tools on the Web to market low budget movies.

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Nina Paley blogs obsessively. She blogs about her pet, about food poisoning and about around-the-world travel. She also blogs about her award-winning multicultural independent movie Sita Sings the Blues.

Although her film, which juxtaposes the Ramayana with an American breakup, has won prestigious awards including the Gotham Award for Best Film Not Playing at a Theatre Near You and the Best Feature in the Annecy Animation Festival, Paley, like other independent filmmakers, finds it hard to find agents and distributors for a commercial release.

“The Indian American cast, the Indian American setting in my movie was very confusing to distributors. They don’t like to risk films like mine,” said Paley.

Dramatic television previews, larger-than-life billboards, and glossy posters have become an expensive cliché. Battling both a low print and advertising budget as well as a discouraging response from commercial distributors, Indie filmmakers have realized that the normal Hollywood model doesn’t work for independent films.

Indie filmmakers, especially those incorporating international or multicultural themes, are finding innovative methods to promote and distribute their films.

Paley’s solution was to use blogging to generate buzz and find a multiculturally savvy audience for her independent animation. So Paley not only blogs to promote her Indian American animated flick, but also to get online support from viewers — whether it is to create an audience for her movie’s latest screening, whether it is for advice or even for online donations.

Paley’s website also offers sneak previews and art from her movie to attract desi viewers. “As an independent filmmaker, I have no investors. So I blog. The money I receive is often small, but the experience is beautiful and inspiring,” she said.

Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues 
Recognizing the value of such films, which not only tell important stories but also educate Western audiences, Aroon Shivdasani, president and executive director of New York’s Indo-American Arts Council, has organized film festivals like ‘India Now’ to promote independent films through partnerships with other organizations.

“The best route for independent filmmakers is through industry channels. Speaking directly to sales agents, filmmakers can chalk out best routes for their films,” said Shivdasani.

For Tariq Tapa, director of indie film Zero Bridge, which is based on the life of a petty criminal in Kashmir, finding a distributor through industry channels has been hard. “There no magic offer that’s going to come to you. You have to be proactive about what kind of path you choose to make the movie seen by maximum number of people.”

Proactive is something these independent filmmakers are. By creating websites, podcasts, twitter messages, and groups on social utility websites, they are ushering in a new era of e-marketing.

 Deepti Gupta, lead actress in a web-series called Nipple: “I am emailing all my friends, both professional and personal, and using Facebook to create hype.”
Unlike A-list films, which are marketed with vigor before release and pulled if they don’t do well in the first week, independent films are publicized through the internet version of word-of-mouth.

Tapa himself has links to Facebook, Twitter and Youtube on his movie website to connect with the younger international audience with web savoir-faire.

“Non-mainstream is the way of the future. Most filmmakers start with some sort of a combination and that’s the way for truly independent films to be distributed,” said Milton Tabbot, senior director of programming, at the Independent Filmmaker Project, New York.

Although fewer films are being distributed because of the economic downturn, independent filmmakers are finding other ways of cultivating audiences, as more people are learning about and becoming interested in independent cinema showcasing the Indian or South Asian perception .

“It’s not just niche audience for such films anymore. The audience is definitely growing,” said IAAC’s Shivdasani.

Deepti Gupta, lead actress in a web-series called Nipple, has figured out her own ways to promote the indie production — so long as it’s free. “I am emailing all my friends, both professional and personal, and using Facebook to create hype,” she said.

 ReenA ShAh: “You can send a blast out to your community, just like I did for Sita Sings the Blues and tons of people showed up for my independent screening in a library.”
Shah even uploads one or two clips of her indie films and series on her own website to generate audience interest. Once they become regular viewers, she and her director plan to approach advertisers to generate online revenue.

If the audience for indie flicks is growing, so are indie filmmakers. As cameras and digital phones are being used to make films, membership at organizations like the Independent Filmmaker’s Project is also growing, thanks to low-cost resources.

The growing competition make it harder for small indie film producers to maintain market presence. Here’s where Video on demand (VoD) and Youtube come to the rescue. Moving away from revenue-generation, indie filmmakers try and get their work seen by the largest possible audience using sites that allow them to host videos.

“There is no right way to distribute an independent film,” said Reena Shah, who has acted in more than 15 independent films incorporating desi themes, including Sita Sings the Blues. Well-versed in the wealth of internet resources as advertising tools for her work, Shah has used listservs, website promotions, and Netflix to distribute DVDs and inform potential audiences.

To promote multicultural films dealing with the Indian diaspora, Shah has used her contacts with organizations like South Asian Women’s Creative Collective and Salaam, to promote the film to niche audiences.

“You can send a blast out to your community, just like I did for Sita and tons of people showed up for my independent screening in a library,” she said.

With more websites cropping up for independent video streaming, internet downloading sites, and marketing through blogs, listservs and sites like MySpace, one thing is clear: There will always be a place for indie films — and not just in theatres.

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Entertainment | Arts & Entertainment | Magazine | March 2009

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