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So you've made a movie. Congrats! But now you have to get people to see it. How you market your movie depends a lot on what your movie is. Is it a massive blockbuster? That means one set of requirements. Is it a small, Indy film? That's a different set of requirements. In this episode of Crash Course Film Production, Lily talks us through some of the history and methods of marketing a film to an audience.


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 Intro (0:00)

Let's say you made a movie. You wrote a script, prepared the shoot, assembled a cast and crew, shot the film, edited it, and sound mixed the thing until it's ready for the world. And it's awesome. Congratulations! 

Now, you just have to convince an audience to come see it. These days, that's more important than ever. With hundreds of films, TV series, and online videos competing for our attention, filmmakers and distribution companies need to find creative ways to make their content stand out. 

From posters and trailers to celebrity press junkets, let's take a peek at the world of marketing.

[Opening credits]

 History of Marketing (0:43)

In the earliest days of film, movies were the marketing. People bought tickets just to see pictures move on a screen. As it became clear that film was going to endure as a source of mass entertainment and communication, a permanent infrastructure emerged - things like movie studios and theater chains.

Those studios started making more and more movies to keep up with demand. And, suddenly, moviegoers had options! Audiences also became more sophisticated viewers. They wanted stories, and they wanted stars. 

Film studios and distributors were faced with greater competition and needed to find ways to persuade people to see their film, instead somebody else's. That's were marketing comes in. And, in fact, many of the elements of cinema's earliest marketing campaigns are still with us today.

In the 1910s, the studios that made and distributed films noticed that more people bought tickets for movies starring actors like Florence Lawrence, Mark Pickford, and Lillian Gish. So they began to market their films based on celebrities, which helped create the star system. Celebrities continue to be a powerful weapon in a film's marketing arsenal to this day.

They can be deployed to talk shows, magazine spreads, or press junkets, where hundreds of journalists are wined, dined, and given a few precious moments to interview a personality. Today's celebrities also leverage their own social media to increase the hype around their movies. 

 Advertising Methods (1:47)

But as flashy as the star system is, in many ways, the cornerstone of film marketing is the poster or one sheet. Whether they're organized around an iconic image from the film, or covered with the movie's most famous actors, these graphic designs can be used in print ads, transformed into billboards, or displayed outside theaters. 

The best posters represent a movie in a single, powerful image. Think of the shark rising up toward the swimmer on the Jaws poster, or the moth over Jodie Foster's mouth from The Silence of the Lambs

Posters often include tag lines as well - brief, memorable catch-phrases that sum up the theme of the movie. Like Alien: "In space, no one can hear you scream." Or The Shawshank Redemption: "Fear can hold you prisoner, hope can set you free." 

Posters might also feature quotes from film critics. Remember, this is all an act of persuasion, so if critics are raving, people might get curious enough to see a movie for themselves. 

Trailers or previews were another early development in film marketing. The earliest trailers appeared at the end of serials, early short films that told longer stories in weekly installments. Each episode would end with some kind of cliffhanger, and include a shot from the next week's film. 

Once feature films became the norm, studios would mine a film for shots of its most famous actors. Then, they would pair those shots with title cards - or after the advent of sound, a narrator - to tell the audience how incredible the movie was going to be. 

[Voiceover from trailer] Against this fascinating background, has woven the story of an imperishable love and the enthralling saga of six desperate people.

In the 1960s, American movie trailers began to break this mold. Alfred Hitchcock famously starred in the trailer for Psycho, in which he gave the audience a walking tour of the film's set, describing where various grisly murders took place. 

Hitchcock: And in this house, the most dire, horrible events took place.

In 1964, Stanley Kubrick made his own trailer for Dr. Strangelove. It's a funny, fragmented creation, intercutting very short clips from the movie with title cards that ask the movie's big questions. 

Since the 1970s, films have also advertised on television. Jaws was among the first, featuring a shortened version of the theatrical trailer. 

Voiceover: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss. 
Martin Brody: You're gonna need a bigger boat.

And during this time, another big change came to Hollywood marketing. Before the 1970s, the marketing departments of major movie studios began their work after a film was done. The studio produced the movie, and then the marketing people sold it to an audience. 

But by the 1980s, those studios had all been purchased by big, multinational corporations, where the marketing professionals were consulted before many products were fully developed. That strategy trickled down, and by the mid-1980s, the in-house marketing departments of places like Paramount, Warner Brothers, and 20th Century Fox began weighing in on which films should actually get made.

Studios like Marvel have taken this to a whole new level, staking out release dates and creating promotional material for movies before they've developed a script, hired actors, or picked a director. 

Meanwhile, sponsorships and product placements have existed in some form since the dawn of movies, but in the 1980s, they reached a whole new level. Companies like Coca-Cola or Frito-Law would pay to have their products featured in movies movies aimed at an audience they hoped to reach.

And it often worked! For instance, after Hershey's agreed to spend a million dollars marketing Stephen Spielberg's E.T. in exchange for a prominent use of Reese's Pieces in the film, sales of the candy jumped by a whopping 65% in just two weeks. 

And the Internet has revolutionized movie marketing in many ways. Not only is it cheaper to deliver trailers over the web, but marketing departments can now target their material to very specific audiences.

And savvy use of social media can amplify the marketing team's message. So rather than paying to advertise on every major television network, the marketing team of a new animated film can aim ads directly at, say, people whose browser histories indicate that they have young kids.

 Follow the Money (5:17)

Now, when you're marketing a film, first you'll have to figure out how much you'll need to spend. Generally speaking, marketing costs about an additional quarter to a half of a film's budget. So if you've made a new comic book movie for $150 million, you might have to spend another $75 million to make sure people know it's coming out. 

And the problem is, now your movie has to make $225 million just to break even! So where does all that money go? 

Well, the biggest chunk of a marketing budget falls under something called Prints and Advertising, or P&A. Marketing departments will often buy print ad space in local newspapers and on billboards, advertise on the radio, or make a series of teasers and trailers. 

And depending on how you release your film, the cost of P&A can change. Each of these avenues has different marketing requirements, expenses, and strategies. A theatrical release is generally pricier. The film itself has to be physically delivered to theaters - which used to cost more when that meant hauling around heavy metal cans full of physical film. 

But there are benefits, too. There's still some prestige attached to having your film play in a movie theater. And films have to have at least a small theatrical release to be eligible for major awards like the Oscars, for instance. And if you make a big enough marketing splash when your film opens in theaters, by the time it comes out on other platforms, people might remember hearing about it.

Other films find release on cable television. Marketing these films is somewhat less expensive, and the audience is easier to find - because they're already watching the channel. Channels like HBO, Showtime, and even the History Channel have produced and distributed movies and miniseries to great success in recent years. 

Then, there are paid streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. They not only distribute films that have had a theatrical run, but also let you stream original movies on your television, tablet, or phone, whenever and wherever you want. 

These companies know more about who their audience is than anyone else. They know what you've watched before, what you've searched for, and what you might be interested in seeing next. This level of detail is a dream for movie marketing executives...and a little bit creepy if you think about it too much. 

Some movies get released on free streaming services, like YouTube or Vimeo. These films often aim their marketing materials at prominent users of a platform, hoping that someone with a few million followers will spread the word about their movie. 

This kind of marketing can be less expensive, but more time consuming. Movies also get released on home video formats, like DVD and Blu-ray, and by film festivals, both live and online. Some movies use a successful film festival run to market their films to buyers - distribution companies who will then release the film theatrically or through video-on-demand.

These distribution companies, from the major studios to independent companies like A24 or Magnolia Pictures, will use their expertise and infrastructure to execute a marketing strategy and help the film find its audience. 

Film festivals also offer movies a chance to be seen by critics, whose reviews can boost interest in a film and provide marketing departments with quotes they can put on the posters and DVD art. 

 Marketing for Different Movies (7:52)

Needless to say, different kinds of movies aimed at different audiences require very different marketing and distribution strategies. And while a film's success relies on more than just its marketing, every film does need to find its audience. 

For big-budget movies with a theatrical release, the opening weekend box office is key to their success. The money and good press from a big opening weekend can lead all the way to massive home video sales, successful sequels, and even theme park rides. 

So there's a lot riding on the marketing departments of major studios to get people buying tickets to their films right out of the gate. They have some help, because many huge Hollywood movies are based on characters or stories that people are familiar with. Sequels, prequels, and reboots, oh my!

Such audiences are already pre-aware of these stories, the job of the marketing department is to use tools like trailers, posters, commercials, or talk show appearances to make people want to see all these movies right away. Big-budget marketing efforts create a vicious cycle, though, since the high cost of the national campaign means the film has to make even money money at the box office to break even. 

Smaller, independent movies don't have the resources to throw a 100 million dollars into marketing, but they don't necessarily need to. These movies are often made for much less money, so they don't need to break box office records on their opening weekend to be a success and pay back investors. 

So, whether you've made the latest Marvel movie or a DIY indie on your cell phone, marketing is an essential piece of the filmmaking puzzle when it comes to find an audience and getting them excited to see your film. 

 Review and Credits (9:05)

Today we talked about the history of marketing, from the earliest days through innovative online campaigns. We looked at the ways marketing professionals use things like posters, trailers, and celebrity interviews to drive awareness of films. And, we explored the costs and benefits of various strategies for marketing large-scale blockbusters versus micro-budget indies. 

Next time, we'll spend some time exploring that age old question: should you go to film school, or not? 

Crash Course Film Production is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel, check out a playlist of their latest shows, like Deep Look, Eons, and Infinite Series. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these nice people. And our amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.

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