This is a guest post from Matt Batten, founder of Mr. Chicken Films.
Indie filmmakers are champing at the bit to get their films made, to have their carefully crafted scripts come to life. After all, the reason we want to make films is because we want people to see, hear, and share our original stories.
But in our haste, we often forget the most important half of that desire – that we want people to actually see our work. What's the point of telling your story if no-one is listening?
All of this is to say, you need an audience.
And no, they won’t just show up to watch your film. You need to beat the drum, sound the trumpets, make some noise.
And that's where having a damn good poster comes in.
Our experience with making posters for indie films
Recently, Mr Chicken Films opened the doors of their design studio to indie filmmakers with the offer of a free film art package with which they could professionally market their film online. We only posted the offer on Twitter and to a dozen indie film groups on Facebook, but we were flooded with submissions from all over the world – London, New York, India, Israel, the Netherlands, and all across the UK.
We had to select just ten filmmakers for whom our award-winning design team would create a kick-ass film poster and a bunch of digital assets including cover images for Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, social media posts for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and title cards for Vimeo and YouTube.
There were some truly great film submissions.
But as we scoured over the entries to select our winners, we discovered a problem. Not one filmmaker – not a single one – had any visual assets to work with.
With all their synopses and screenplays, teasers and finished films, crowdfunding campaigns and showreels, there wasn’t single person who had captured a still image that could be transformed into other visual assets for the film.
After all their hard work, from scripting their idea to gathering cast and crew through to funding, shooting, post-production and preparing for release, no-one had taken the time to capture some photos – including those who told us they preferred a photographic style for their film’s artwork.
Sure, many had “a bunch of photos taken by the crew on their phones”, but hardly anyone thought of taking high quality production stills that could be used to market their film.
Between our design team and the collaboration of the film-makers, we always found a solution, whether it be to use a graphic or illustrative style or have the film-maker retrospectively take some photographs.
However, this can cause some issues. A graphic or illustrative style might not match the film’s genre or art direction, or the filmmaker’s personal taste.
No one wants to use stock imagery for their film poster (let alone pay for it). And it’s difficult, sometimes downright impossible, to retrospectively set up a photo-shoot to capture some images – the actors aren’t available, they’ve shaved their head for their next role, the set has been dismantled, the props have been returned, the location is now closed, the season has changed, and so on.
So the moral of this story is...
Always capture images as you’re making the film.
When your crew is on that Scottish hillside with the wind blowing in the hair of the leading lady as she stands over the body of her vanquished enemy, and you’re looking down the lens with that shiver up your spine because you just nailed the epic shot that’ll make your film worth all the effort, and you yell “CUT!”, don’t cut.
Your DoP can stop filming, but now’s the time to get your stills photographer to step in and snap some photos. It might even be you with a decent DSLR. You may need to play with the lighting a little because a still image requires an elevated sense of drama once all the motion has been removed. But if you can’t set up lights, the weather is closing in, the light is fading, and everyone is dog-tired, just get the best set of images you can.
Just for reference, here are a few great posters that use still photography from production to great effect.
Those high-resolution stills could be a major factor in whether your film – and your name – gets seen 100 times or a 100,000 times.
Speaking of which..
To get an audience of mass, you need to market your film.
Hosting your film online like most indie film-makers, especially in the short film arena, is no guarantee of an audience. Vimeo and YouTube are just digital cinemas. Cinemas still need to gather an audience. Even the best filmmakers in the world don't distribute their feature films to cinemas without ensuring they can and do build an audience.
While there are platforms and services that offer (at a price) to ‘distribute’ or ‘market’ your indie film online, your first course of action should be to market the film yourself. You can’t afford billboards and bus shelters across the city, but you have a host of online channels at your disposal.
The online indie film community is very well established with sites like Film Shortage and Short Of The Week hosting and sharing an amazing selection of short films. Their criteria for high quality will exclude many submissions, but that’s how they ensure their platform attracts a loyal audience. And there are plenty of indie and short film groups on Facebook, some of which have a selection process, some of which allow all members to post their films, good and bad.
You also want to use your film's various accounts on social networks. That’s why you’ve been building up followers. But for them to share posts about your film, the posts have to be good. They have to be shareable. A still image from your footage might be OK, but a designed micro-poster will be even better.
Here are a few great examples of how a simple poster design can capture the heart of your film’s story:
When you get to the film festival circuit, your film is definitely going to need some visual assets. Many festivals ask for a range of production stills, as well as artwork for the film, because they need assets of the successful films to display on their website, in their social media, and even at screenings.
And you don’t want your film making official selection of a festival where everyone shows up at the screening theatre and sees your film is the only one that has a lo-res image on the wall alongside the beautifully crafted, high-quality posters of the other winners.
Every great film needs a great film poster. And a wallpaper, a bunch of posts, a title card, some cover images, a T-shirt, a flyer, and anything else you need to spread the word.
Think about how you would picture the film’s poster.
Plan ahead. Make a sketch. Picture the poster in your mind.
At Mr Chicken Films, we actually create poster art for our screenplays as soon as the script is written. It helps establish a vision for the film, provides some assets to start teasing out the marketing of the script before it even gets to development, and, more importantly, it helps ensure that marketing is always top of mind when the film is being made.
Work with your art director, or a fellow indie filmmaker (like Mr Chicken), who has the skill and experience to be able to conceptualise the key art that will market your film. You will probably also find the design helps cement or influence your film’s style, even if it’s just the typography of the title.
And sometimes the typography of the title is more successful than the image. Just check out a few of these famous examples.
Look at how titles are treated for your favourite films. Cult classics like Aliens, Terminator and Ghostbusters developed their own identity through their title type, which became a logo for the film, and could even be used to market the film without using any imagery at all.
So rather than just grabbing whatever font you find at the end of a long week in post-production and slapping it into the first 10 seconds of your film, crafting a typographic treatment for your title beforehand can be a defining moment, as you envision it on the film, the poster, and a T-shirt.
Explore the various styles of great film posters, like the original Jaws, Kill Bill, Taxi Driver or Gravity, as well as the designs created by fans that use a key image, minimalist illustration, typography and amazingly creative ways to focus on the crux of the film without using any stills or giving away any spoilers.
Here are the original posters on top, with the fan art minimalist versions below.
It’s unlikely that a still image pulled from your 4K footage is going to adequately convey the story, emotion, cinematic drama and entertainment desirability you want from a poster.
Rarely does a photographic image that perfectly matches the film’s cinematographic style do the film justice once it is frozen in time at 1/25th of a second and removed from all the other frames that create the context of that image.
Weigh up your film’s idea versus the compositional aesthetic of a poster design, and consider what single image or illustration would not only convey the heart of your story but also create intrigue and a desire to watch your film.
Picture your concept in various formats from an actual poster to social media posts to title frames, and any other format in which it might be shared as you spread the word of your film and drum up audience intrigue.
But most of all, get a poster made. Even if it’s just for your own bedroom wall.
Because one day, it might be on the walls of many bedrooms.
Filmmaker's Process is ad-free and always will be because of readers like you. If you find this content useful and want to see it continue for years to come, consider becoming a patron today. Plus there are some pretty cool rewards!
If you enjoyed this article, you'll love the Filmmaker's Process newsletter. Each week, we share our latest posts, a weekly filmmaking resource, curated stories from around the web, a short film that we love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.
Are you ready to take your filmmaking to the next level?