Market those Films!

Alisa Perren’s book Indie, Inc. reflects on the decade of the 1990s and how Miramax as a company sought a specific niche in identifying themselves as distributors of “Independent” films. However, it was not that Miramax just made these specialty films available to a wider audience, but that because it was so successful in doing so, and after being bought by Disney it was able to shape and influence and transform the Hollywood industry. In her introduction she mentions how Miramax was able to market and make appealing films to a wide range of demographics, strategically rather than how previous ‘art-house’ films were geared towards those with ‘cultural capital’ (3). Miramax helped change the idea of the ‘Independent Film’ as a specialty film, however that has ties to the large studios.

The Weinstein brothers were excellent at exploiting markets, as Perren writes, “What the Weinsteins recognized before most other independent distributors was the value of selling low-budget films via a combination of exploitation marketing tactics and an emphasis on quality and difference” (23). They pride themselves and their company on the idea that the films they distribute have been specifically selected because they have a certain quality and difference. Even when they were producing genre films, B-movies, Bob Weinstein claimed, “We’re not changing our stripes whatsoever…The films we usually do are our first love. But genre films are also important. They carry a sense of less quality, of stigma, and that shouldn’t happen” (49). These films were distributed under their short-lived division of Miramax, named Dimension Films to avoid a direct connection between the films and the name “Miramax.” Marketing was everything, and this quote proves it– they made movies in a way, something they were not through marketing them as a ‘specialty or quality’ film and therefore exploiting markets. The way a film is marketed results in the way it is received and viewed by consumers. If it is marketed as a ‘quality’ film it will be read for what genre it is marketed as.

Last spring, I worked at a small film production company in London and one of my tasks was to help a director run a kickstarter campaign for a specific film. It was originally a documentary about an asylum in Juarez, Mexico, focused on a specific patient in this hospital, but when promotional videos were made and distributed for the film, the man’s estranged daughter recognized him from the promo videos and thus the documentary evolved into a story about their reunion. We had to market this movie in order to raise money to cover production costs and to do this we had to define it by the issues it was involved with. We focused on mental health, immigration issues, Juarez drug cartel issues and worked to promote the movie pertaining to one of these specific issues. Therefore, we collected contacts for mental hospitals, universities with immigration studies, scholars of drug cartels, and other specific areas. It made me realize what it meant to market a cultural product and how the different aspects of the film were promoted specifically to their respective area, in hopes that these areas would see the film an important commodity in their line of work, and therefore help to pay for the production of an independent film. This is a similar process to how Miramax marketed the films they themselves purchased, as something specific- “quality films” but as a quality film that could be enjoyed by a wide audience. Independent films therefore have a seemingly economical and cultural meaning- cultural in the way they are marketed and received, and economically in the way they are produced.

However, now that the large conglomerates have hold over these well marketed and distributed independent films–so are they really independent? 



  1. Thanks for sharing about your experience working on the Kickstarter campaign for Dead When I Got There, Annie. I really enjoyed reading about how your experiences working to market an independent film jibed with Perren’s discussion.

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